Grain company files tort claim against state agency over falling numbers

Matthew Weaver

Capital Press

Published on November 15, 2016 10:44AM

Matthew Weaver/Capital Press File
Program specialist Taylor Keeton calculates the falling number for a wheat sample Aug. 9 in the Spokane Valley, Wash., office of the Washington State Department of Agriculture grain inspection service. At right, technician Mike Espinoza washes beakers from the test. A Washington grain company has filed a tort claim alleging that the state didn't follow federal procedures in doing the tests.

Matthew Weaver/Capital Press File Program specialist Taylor Keeton calculates the falling number for a wheat sample Aug. 9 in the Spokane Valley, Wash., office of the Washington State Department of Agriculture grain inspection service. At right, technician Mike Espinoza washes beakers from the test. A Washington grain company has filed a tort claim alleging that the state didn't follow federal procedures in doing the tests.

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Glacier Grains Inc. filed a tort claim Oct. 28 against the Washington Department of Agriculture Grain Inspection Program.

The company claims $7,869.55 in damages.

Hector Castro, spokesman for WSDA, said the agency has 60 days to respond. He declined to comment further.

Grain elevators use the Hagberg-Perten falling number test to measure starch damage due to sprouting. A low falling number indicates a high level of alpha amylase, an enzyme that degrades starch and diminishes the quality of wheat products. Grain with a falling number below 300 typically receives a discount in the Pacific Northwest. Rain and temperature fluctuations are the primary causes.

“I believe the state department of agriculture is not following the federal procedure for conducting the falling number test,” said Benjamin Wyborney, a Spokane attorney representing Glacier Grains. His father and brother, Robert Wyborney and Pete Wyborney, are listed in the claim as president of Glacier Grains.

Discounts for falling number vary depending on the elevator, according to the Washington Grain Commission. Some companies dock a penny per point below 300, so 299 would be a one-cent discount. Others discount by the quarter, meaning that 299 would be docked the same as 276, 25 cents.

This year’s total crop was 157.3 million bushels, according to the commission. Forty-two percent of the samples tested by WSDA had low falling numbers.

Under USDA requirements, offices must adjust for altitude at locations at or above 2,000 feet. The Spokane office is at roughly 1,920 feet, Wyborney, the lawyer, said. He believes the office is making the altitude adjustment “arbitrarily.”

“I do not believe they have authorization to deviate from the federal procedure,” he said.

The Spokane laboratory conducts one-third of the state’s falling number tests, in addition to offices in Colfax and Pasco, Wyborney said.

“If I am correct and the state lab is doing the test wrong, that is causing about a 27-second reduction in the falling number,” Wyborney said.

State law requires an administrative claim to be filed with the Office of Risk Management, Wyborney said. After 60 days, if not satisfied with the results of that claim, the company can file a civil complaint, he said. If not satisfied then, it could appeal through the court system.

“I don’t know how far it’s going to go — that is the typical road map,” he said.

The claim is the only one from the last decade an analyst was able to locate pertaining to falling number tests, said Linda Kent, spokeswoman for the Department of Enterprise Services.



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