Montana native handles multiple duties Scott Steinbacher, Washington State Department of Agriculture

By Kevin Gaffney
For Wheat Life


It was an unusual route taken by Scott Steinbacher to becoming eastern regional manager of the Grain Inspection and Warehouse Audit program manager for the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA). 

Based in Spokane, Steinbacher joined the WSDA in 2011. His previous employment had been in the high-end hospitality industry. Born and raised in Montana, after graduating from Fort Benton High School, Steinbacher earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration at the Billings campus of Montana State University (MSU). 

Steinbacher was adamant that although he earned his degree from MSU, he is not a Bobcat.

“Let there be no mistake,” said Steinbacher. “I am a Grizzly fan through and through. I proudly wear my Griz attire. Of course, living and working here in Eastern Washington, I will occasionally get some comments from Eastern Washington University (EWU) fans, but I never let that dampen my Grizzly spirit.”

After finishing his studies at MSU, Steinbacher followed his high school sweetheart and future wife, Tawni, to Las Vegas, where she was in the process of earning a degree at the University of Las Vegas in hospitality administration. Steinbacher quickly found a position with Wynn Hotels as their call center manager for their housekeeping department. 

Following Tawni’s graduation, she and Steinbacher wanted to move back to Montana. Unfortunately, good jobs were scarce at that time. Unable to find satisfactory employment back home, they looked to Spokane. Steinbacher’s experience with Wynn promptly earned him a position at the historic Davenport Hotel. 

“My four years at the Davenport were enjoyable, but the atmosphere in the hospitality industry was just not like the rural, agricultural culture I grew up in,” said Steinbacher. “I wanted to work in a forward-thinking, down-to-earth type of position. I appreciate that people in the ag industry are forthright and generally make it clear exactly what they want. We may not always be able to provide precisely what a company or a farmer is looking for, but they understand we will do our best to serve them.”

Steinbacher originally wanted to work for the Farm Service Agency (FSA), but their system requires employees to start at the bottom and often entails several moves to different offices and from state to state before opportunities open up for senior positions. With a growing family, Steinbacher didn’t want to move that many times. He applied for a position with the WSDA grain inspection service division and had to complete both written and physical tests before being hired. He joined the Spokane grain inspection office in December 2011 as an inspector-in-training. 

Within two years, he had earned all the licenses required for his position, including certification for wheat, lentils, peas, split peas, and beans. Soon after, he moved into a supervisor training position before being promoted to assistant eastern regional manager.

“When then-Eastern Regional Manager Don Potts became ill, I began training with him and filling in for him as his health worsened,” Steinbacher said. “Not long after that, I was made the permanent eastern regional manager for the grain inspection and the grain warehouse audit program manager.”

The dual positions Steinbacher holds are both part of the WSDA. The grain inspection program has an overall manager based in Olympia who oversees the three Washington grain regions: northwest, southwest, and eastern. 

Grain samples from all over the state are inspected, tested, and classified. The harvest season is obviously their busiest time of the year. 

The warehouse audit program ensures that all grain warehouses and grain dealers are abiding by their contracts and that all payments are being made in a timely and accurate manner. They also measure and certify that all storage bins and facilities throughout the region have the exact bushel amount of grain that matches the official records. The bonding and financing documents of all the companies are also examined to make sure they are in proper order.

The eastern regional manager oversees offices in Spokane, Colfax, Pasco, and Quincy. Due to rising costs, especially office rent increases, the Pasco office will be closing this year, with most of that work being transferred to the Colfax location.

“Since harvest is earlier in that wheat-growing region, it should actually work out pretty well on the timing of the harvest season rush,” said Steinbacher. “Our staffing at Colfax will be beefed up, including Washington State University (WSU) students filling in part-time positions during the busy season.”

Much of the nonharvest-season work involves testing pulse crops that are going out for export. All shipments must be qualified for phytosanitary certificates to be exported to international markets.

Asked about the low falling numbers (LFN) situation in Washington wheat, Steinbacher said intense research is being conducted to provide a reliable, on-site test that could be used during harvest at local warehouses to allow proper storage and identity preservation.

“WSU is reportedly very close to developing rapid, on-site testing for LFN,” said Steinbacher. “However, whatever test we eventually come up with, it must be compatible and accepted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture system or we won’t be able to use it.

“I believe we also need to do more research and testing to determine how much milling quality is affected by the two distinctive main causes of LFN, whether it is preharvest sprouting or late maturity alpha-amylase (LMA). There are some indications that LMA is not as harmful to the grain milling quality, but at this time, there is no differentiation regarding the harsh monetary penalties suffered by growers.”

Steinbacher is about to start his third term as the WSDA representative on the Washington Grain Commission (WGC). 

“The two most important missions of the WGC, in my opinion, are the grain research funding we provide and our work with U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) in maintaining and expanding export markets worldwide,” he noted. “Most of our research support funds go to WSU. I believe it has been a very successful partnership. In the past few years, we have worked to develop an even closer relationship between wheat breeders and millers. With everyone working together, the researchers can acquire the best possible information on exactly what the millers are looking for to improve our grain varieties.

“We have such a diverse growing community here in Washington state. There are areas growing wheat with as little as 6 to 8 inches of annual moisture, and other areas that may receive up to 30 inches of moisture. As a commission, we try to make decisions that will help all areas of the state whenever possible.”

Steinbacher believes some growers don’t fully understand how much our export markets are helped by the partnership of the WGC with USW. 

“Our relationship is critically important. They have 15 offices located all over the world, helping to market wheat products in over 100 nations worldwide. We host between four and seven international trade teams in our Spokane office every year,” he explained. “With the help of the WGC, they are able to connect with our growers and professionals throughout the wheat industry in Washington. Seeing the high quality of our grains from the farmers’ fields to where it is loaded onto ships for export provides an understanding and a connection that is invaluable.

“Our close relationships with the Washington Association of Wheat Growers, the National Association of Wheat Growers, and USW really help us to stretch our research and marketing dollars more efficiently. And we welcome input from individual growers, as well.”

The WSDA grain inspection office in Spokane Valley is located at 617 N. Fancher Road. They can be reached at (509) 533-2487.