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Kia Adams-Mikesh is vice-president of North Dakota Grain Inspection in Fargo. IMAGE: NICK NELSON/FORUM NEWS SERVICE

BUSINESS INSIDER: With the grain


Kia Adams-Mikesh grew up in the grain inspection industry and has worked for her family’s business, North Dakota Grain Inspection Service of Fargo, for six years.

She is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management. She started out at NDGI as project manager and was promoted to vice president in 2016.

She’s on the board of directors for the American Association of Grain Inspection & Weighing Agencies, and was appointed by the U.S. secretary of agriculture to serve on the federal Grain Inspection Advisory Committee.

Give us a history of your company and your family's involvement with it.

North Dakota Grain Inspection Service has been serving the inspection needs of eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota since 1968. Shortly after the founding, my grandfather, Steve Adams, started at NDGI and worked his way up to management.

Around 1990, Steve became the sole owner. His goal was to provide the most accurate and effective service for customers. This led to NDGI’s first acquisition in Illinois, an expansion that took the company from sampling railcars and trucks to sampling barges on the Mississippi River.

My father, Mike Adams, helped lead this expansion, and it started his career in management. Around 2011, my two brothers and I began working full-time for the company. My oldest brother, Michael, is the manager in Ohio, and my youngest brother, Mark, is our quality assurance manager.

From 2014 to 2016, NDGI made three acquisitions, expanding territory and services into Indiana and Ohio. Like my father’s experience in Illinois, I followed a similar path with Ohio and Indiana, leading me to learn new skills and grow my career to vice president. I’ve spent the past few years integrating and growing the new territories.

What about you? How did you come to work with the firm?

In high school, I dreamed of working for a large corporation in a large city – everything different than I had experienced in Fargo. To start out, I attended the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota.

I feel fortunate for the experiences I gained in classes and internships, but I quickly learned that it was not my passion. Instead, I found myself doing every class project on our family business back in North Dakota.

Gradually, it dawned on me that this was the path I was meant to take. When I was a junior in college, I started the discussion with my family – and was immediately told that I could not come back, because there wasn’t a place for me. Not the response I was expecting!

In fact, my father and grandfather had taken that approach to make sure that working for the company was what I truly wanted. But I learned that only later, after I’d worked hard to prove to them that I would be an asset.

I must have been convincing, because I headed back to Fargo to work for NDGI as the project manager immediately after graduation.

It has been six years, and I’ve never regretted the choice that I made. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to live my passion.

What training and experiences have helped you the most with your job?

The three types of training and experiences that have helped me the most are industry, education and curiosity.

  • Beginning in high school with our local DECA chapter, I found that industry and networking were great ways to gain knowledge. I took what I learned in that high school business chapter, and applied it to college and jobs.

    I take every opportunity to get involved in “bigger picture” organizations. It’s easy to get tunnel vision within your company, and these associations and conferences help to broaden your understanding.

    A few years ago, I was appointed to the federal Grain Inspection Advisory Committee, where I’ve gained the most knowledge on the effects of grain inspection on domestic trade and exports. Serving on the board of directors for TrueIT, a local IT company in Fargo, also has been invaluable.

  • Nothing can replace a good education, and by “education” I mean not only schooling but also forging your own path. It isn’t enough to just attend classes; you must embrace every opportunity that is presented to you.

    For example, I was impressed by my college professors’ knowledge and experience, and I tried to learn even more from them by bringing case studies about our company to their attention. Not only did this help our company, but also it cemented the professors’ lectures in my mind by applying their teachings to my life.

    Education also can be acquired in other ways, such as by reading business and agriculture magazines, researching new topics, attending conferences and webinars, and networking.  

  • There’s no standard training that teaches the inner workings of the grain inspection industry, but I did my best by immersing myself in everything. Curiosity led me to learn the most I could.

    On my very first day, for example, I started reading the Federal Grain Inspection Service Handbooks – thousands of pages that outline any situation we may encounter and how to properly execute.

How does grain inspection work? In other words, what kinds of things are inspectors looking for?

The official grain inspection and weighing system is a unique program comprised of federal, state, and private partners.

NDGI is authorized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide official services to the grain trade on behalf of the government. Each official service provider operates under U.S. grain standards and procedures.

As an official agency, NDGI is recognized as an unbiased third-party between buyers and sellers of grain. The inspection results are used to help determine pricing and to establish the safety of the commodity.

Customers generally ask our company to get samples from railcars, containers, barges or trucks. From those samples, inspections can determine damage, moisture content, protein and toxins, among other indicators.

Each employee gets rigorously trained in what to look for, and they use that skill when they’re sampling from a carrier, running tests through machines or making visual determinations.

Our company then is monitored by the USDA to ensure quality results.

To be successful, we also must pay close attention to the many regulatory changes. Because the industry is not static, NDGI is always adapting and developing new programs and procedures.

What do you love about grain inspection?

I love this industry because every day, I do something different while knowing our company is making a difference.

Also, our company’s presence in eight states helps me to better understand all grain markets across America.

Additionally, the agricultural industry is complex, involving science, technology, markets and standards – and this makes innovation inevitable. It pushes us to take a creative approach to efficiently growing the business while abiding by the USDA’s guidelines.

In other words, this industry doesn’t let you become stagnant in your career. Just the opposite: It  encourages further growth and development.