Uncertainty is often the foundation of apprehension and frustration. Ask producers about their apprehension when approaching an elevator with a load of soybeans, uncertain how they’ll grade out.
Ask them about the frustration when the load is deemed to be damaged heavily.
Attempting to bring more certainty and less variability to the grading process, Mississippi officials have been setting up soybean grading clinics around the state.
“This is a common concern among growers,” says Trey Koger, Mississippi Extension soybean specialist. “They get upset and say, ‘I can take a load of beans to one elevator and they tell me it has 20 percent damage. That seems too high so I take it to the elevator down the road and they tell me the damage is 4 percent.’ That can’t help but raise questions in the growers’ minds.”
Often facing such “very dynamic” variability, in recent years, growers have asked Koger and colleagues for solutions.
In the run-up to the current clinics, “we considered a few options. First up was more regulation. But none of the players in this wants more regulation.”
Since that’s the case, the idea of clinics came up. “After all, federally-licensed inspectors do this sort of grade training anyway. We thought, ‘why not open the grading opportunities up, invite everyone from a geographical region and let the federal inspectors train everyone that wants the instruction?’
“The hope is by covering a geographical region, most of the graders, or inspectors, in that area will be at the clinic. That way, theoretically, during harvest season, a grower who carries a load of beans to an elevator in Cary, Miss., could carry that same load to Magnolia and get similar grading levels of damage.”
But the human element will never be completely removed, says Koger, and some of the grading will forever be tied to simple good, or bad, luck.
“Where was the sample pulled from in the truck? Pull a number of samples from a given truck and you can see a fairly wide range of damage. A lot simply depends on where the probe hits.
“We’re just trying to reduce variability and better train the human eye to be more uniform when evaluating how much damage a load has. Of course, we’ll never eliminate all the variability since it’s subjective and up to the human eye. But we’re hoping to just bring everyone closer together — more standardized, if you will.”
Towards that goal, in 2009, four clinics were held in “key areas” of Mississippi. This year, “we should top that — with 110 to 115 inspectors — at the clinics. We’ve held grading clinics in Vicksburg, Stoneville, Tunica and Verona. That encompasses the vast majority of the soybean-growing area of the state. Ninety-plus percent of our soybeans are grown in the northern two-thirds of Mississippi.”
The clinics have been “very well received and are largely funded by the Mississippi Soybean Promotion Board and supported by the Department of Agriculture and Commerce, Delta Council, and Farm Bureau.”
Are any other states doing the same?
“To my knowledge, Mississippi is the only Mid-South state doing these types of clinics. Out-of-state folks have crossed the river to attend from Arkansas and Louisiana. They’re all welcome.”
At the clinics, the morning sessions are geared towards the inspectors. In the afternoon, “we open it up to growers or anyone from the industry to come in and go through a similar training session. We want them to know what grading soybeans at the elevators entails, the process from A to Z.”
Those teaching at the clinics bring in a multitude of samples with specific types of damage: stink bug, heat damage, mold, musty smell, foreign matter and others. At the end, those taking the class are presented with a large composite sample — “similar to what they’d pull off a truckload — and are told ‘grade this.’ They then go through and partition the different types of damage and get feedback on their determinations.”
Afternoon sessions haven’t been as well-attended as those in the morning. “Obviously, growers are busy and there are field days competing for attention. Those that do attend will better understand what it means to be in the inspectors’ shoes. It’s always good to see things from the other side’s perspective.”
What is Koger hearing about basis?
“Growers have complained about that, too.
“One thing that has helped is the uptick in elevator numbers. There’s a lot more elevators now than a few years ago. It used to be there were only a handful of buyers. Now, that isn’t the case.
“More elevators mean more competition for grain resulting in more flexibility for growers in where to take their crop. True, that may not be the case in every part of the state. But it’s getting better and building a stronger check-and-balance.”