2015/2016 Sorghum Harvest and Export Quality Report

C. U.S. Government Inspection and Grading

1. Purpose

Global sorghum supply chains need verifable and consistent oversight measures that fit the diverse needs of all end users. Oversight measures, implemented through standardized inspection procedures and grading standards, are established to provide:

  • Information for buyers about grain quality at the time of loading prior to arrival at destination; and
  • Food and feed safety protection for the end users.

The United States is recognized globally as having a combination of offcial grades and standards that are used for exporting grains and referenced in export contracts. U.S. sorghum sold by grade and shipped in foreign commerce must be offcially inspected and weighed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Federal Grain Inspection Service (FGIS) or an offcial service provider delegated or designated by FGIS to do so (with a few exceptions). Unlike corn, sorghum exports are not required to be tested for aflatoxins; however, contracting parties often specify shipments to be tested. Qualified state and private inspection agencies are permitted to be designated by FGIS as offcial agents to inspect and weigh sorghum at specified interior locations. In addition, certain state inspection agencies can be delegated by FGIS to inspect and weigh grain offcially at certain export facilities. Supervision of these agencies’ operations and methodologies is performed by FGIS’s field offce personnel.

2. Inspection and Sampling

The loading export elevator provides FGIS or the delegated state inspection agency with a load order specifying the quality of the sorghum to be loaded as designated in the export contract. The load order specifies the U.S. grade and all other requirements that have been agreed upon in the contract between the foreign buyer and the U.S. supplier, plus any special requirements requested by the buyer such as minimum protein content, maximum moisture content, or other special requirements. The offcial inspection personnel determine and certify that the sorghum loaded in the vessel or railcar actually meets the requirements of the load order. Independent laboratories can be used to test for quality factors not mandated to be performed by FGIS, or for which FGIS does not have the local ability to test.

Shipments or “lots” of sorghum are divided into “sublots.” Representative samples for grading are obtained from these sublots using a diverter sampling device approved by FGIS. This device takes an incremental portion every 500 bushels (about 12.7 metric tons) from the moving grain stream just after the final elevation before filling into a shipping bin or loading into the ship or railcar. The incremental portions are combined by sublot and inspected by licensed inspectors. The results are entered into a log and, typically, a statistical loading plan is applied to ensure not only that the average result for each factor meets the contract specifcations, but also that the lot is reasonably uniform in quality. Any sublot that does not meet uniformity criteria on any factor must be returned to the elevator or certified separately. The average of all sublot results for each factor is reported on the final offcial certifcate. The FGIS sampling method provides a truly representative sample, while other commonly used methods may yield non-representative samples of a lot due to the uneven distribution of sorghum in a truck, railcar, or in the hold of a vessel.

3. Grading

Sorghum is divided into four U.S. numerical grades and U.S. Sample Grade. Each grade has limits for test weight, broken kernels and foreign material (BNFM), foreign material (a subset of BNFM), total damaged kernels, and heat-damaged kernels. Heat-damaged kernels are a subset of total damage. The limits for each grade are summarized in the table shown in the “U.S. Sorghum Grades and Conversions” section on page 83. In addition, if requested, FGIS provides certifcation of moisture content and other attributes such as protein, oil, and mycotoxins. Export contracts for sorghum specify many conditions related to the cargo in addition to the contract grade. In some cases, independent labs are used to conduct tests not required by FGIS.

Since the limits on all offcial grade factors (such as test weight and total damage) cannot always be met simultaneously, some grade factors may be better than the limit for a specified grade, but they cannot be worse. For example, a lot may meet the requirements for U.S. No. 2 except for one factor which would cause it to grade U.S. No. 3. For that reason, most contracts are written as “U.S. No. 2 or better” or “U.S. No. 3 or better.” This permits some grade factor results to be at or near the limit for that grade, while other factor results are “better than” that grade.