PEMBINA, North Dakota — They lie hidden on shipping containers or inside trucks at the U.S. border, threatening to undermine the American way of life.
They are the likes of the khapra beetle, twirler moth and noxious weeds like hogweed.
But thanks to the work of agriculture specialists with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, many are stopped before they can cross into the United States. They also make sure that load of hay isn’t hiding some marijuana.
A truck hauling hay approaches the U.S. border with Canada at Pembina, North Dakota, on Monday, Nov. 15, 2021. Mondays are a busy day at the Pembina Port of Entry when neary 1,000 trucks might pass from Canada into the U.S. Trevor Peterson / Agweek
“When they go over to do inspections, it’s basically manual labor,” said Kristi Lakefield, a spokesperson for Customs and Border Protection in Portal, North Dakota, where inspecting containers shipped by rail is the primary duty.
Lakefield said the crossing at Portal is the fifth busiest railyard in the country when measured by number of containers. The crossing at International Falls, Minnesota, is the busiest. During fiscal year 2020, the International Falls Port of Entry cleared approximately 800,000 containers. During that same time, Portal cleared approximately 310,000 containers.
At Pembina, North Dakota, about 500 trucks might pass through from Canada on average day. On a busy Monday, it may be closer to 1,000.
The ag specialists look at pallets, at the bottom of containers and elsewhere for possible stowaways. Inspectors also look to see if a product matches what is listed on a shipping manifest. On Nov. 15, a truckload of grass seed from Germany was pulled into the inspection area at Pembina. An inspector cut open a bag to look for noxious weed seed.
Neil Halley became an ag inspector for Customs and Border Protection at Pembina, North Dakota, after a career in ag education. Jeff Beach / Agweek
“We find something about every other day,” said Neil Halley, a Customs and Border Protection agricultural specialist at Pembina. Halley taught ag education in St. John, North Dakota, before joining the CBP.
To be an ag inspector, you must have a four-year degree in a science field such as biology, and then undergo special training with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
An ag inspector at the Pembina Port of Entry on Monday, Nov. 15, looks through a sample of grass seed taken from a bag shipped from Germany. Ag inspectors look for noxious weed seeds in sample taken off trucks. Trevor Peterson / Agweek
If something suspect is found, Lakefield said a photo can be sent to a pest identifier for confirmation within the same day. Sometimes the physical sample needs to be sent for positive identification, which may require about …….