Jim Quigley figured the job would be right up his alley.
Raised on a wheat, potato and hay farm in the Tri-Cities, the 21-year-old Quigley took a temporary job inspecting potatoes in Kennewick for compliance with state grade requirements prior to shipment to market and, ultimately, to consumers.
“My family grew potatoes so I thought it would be a good fit for me,” he said last week. “The more I did it, the more I enjoyed the work.”
The year was 1969. He’s been at it ever since. That is until this past Friday when Quigley retired, ending a 43-year career with the state Department of Agriculture’s Fruit and Vegetable Inspection Program.
For the past 19 years, he has managed the program, the largest division in the Agriculture Department with an annual budget of more than $13 million.
The program is not supported by tax dollars; the budget is entirely funded by the agriculture industry through fees to support a work force that can reach 300 full- and part-time employees during the peak of harvest. The Agriculture Department operates under a biennial budget of $152 million.
Quigley, who turns 65 on Monday, has led a crew that is critical to the success of the multibillion-dollar agriculture industry. The program provides compliance certification in warehouses across the state, making sure that produce meets state requirements before moving into domestic and export channels. Major commodities inspected include apples, pears, cherries, peaches, asparagus, potatoes and onions. Inspection programs also exist for grains and seed crops.
“In Washington state, we have state regulations and they are imposed by industry so that everyone has a level playing field. We are that disinterested third party to show the industry is in compliance with grade standards and the requirements they must meet.”
Jon DeVaney, executive director of the Yakima Valley Growers-Shippers Association, said Quigley has handled the role well.
“He manages to handle a difficult position. He is both an industry service provider that is paid by fees and he is also a regulator,” DeVaney said. “He keeps those roles appropriately separate. When there are requirements the industry has to meet, he makes sure we do.”
As now-former Agriculture Director Dan Newhouse of Sunnyside has described it, the inspection service provides that independent Good Housekeeping seal of approval that produce meets standards for quality and condition. For export markets, the inspectors assure that produce is free of pests and diseases to comply with requirements of the importing country.
Jim Archer of Yakima, manager of Northwest Fruit Exporters, an industry group that works on export market access, said Quigley has been enthusiastic about the job and responsive to industry needs. Archer worked as a produce inspector early in his 28-year career with the agency.
“His attitude is to resolve a matter whatever it might be. He always had a good attitude to resolve matters and a real positive outlook,” Archer said. “That is not at all the norm with government agencies at times.”
After starting his career in Kennewick, Quigley spent more than 20 years working in agency offices in the Columbia Basin before joining the headquarters in Olympia.
He is credited with bringing technology to the inspection program, introducing tablet computers beginning in 2002 for inspectors to record inspection results. Those results are stored electronically on the department’s computer servers and are accessible to shippers and other industry organizations.
“Before that, we did everything with pen and paper,” Quigley said. “We fully automated that with the industry.”
As the use of technology has increased, so have the complexities of the job. Quigley and his staff have to keep up with the specifics of a growing number of negotiated agreements between the United States and foreign countries that lay out frequency of inspections, among other details. Quigley said inspectors receive training to stay current with those work plans.
“These guys carry a lot of responsibility,” he said.
Quigley is being replaced by Cameron Crump. She joined the department in 2011 as an international trade specialist and moved up to acting program manager last year.
Quigley is retiring to the Tri-Cities. He said he and his wife may do some traveling, including destinations like Taiwan, where he might just stop in grocery stores to look at the quality of produce.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed my 43 years with the department. I have no regrets,” Quigley said. “I look at this as a job for which I get to go to work.”