The North Dakota Department of Agriculture, like many state agencies in recent years, has been tasked with additional responsibilities that require more efficient IT operations.

In 2011, a decision by the state legislature moved full authority for anhydrous ammonia facility inspections from the North Dakota Insurance Department to the Department of Agriculture. Before the 2011 decision, authority to conduct the inspections was split between the two departments, according to Jim Gray, the agriculture department’s pesticide and fertilizer division director.

Anhydrous ammonia, a type of fertilizer commonly used in farming, is a source of nitrogen. The material must be stored and handled properly since it can be a health hazard, he said.

“Anhydrous ammonia is a product that’s stored under pressure, and it can be fairly dangerous if it’s inhaled or if people get it in their eyes,” said Spencer Wagner, a fertilizer specialist with the agriculture department. “And so there’s a lot of engineering that goes into these facilities to make sure there’s not a release.”

After inheriting the additional inspection workload from the insurance department, agriculture officials needed a more efficient solution for not only completing facility inspections and storing related information, but also for conducting inspections on nurse tanks – portable containers used to haul anhydrous ammonia. Gray said that previously, the Agriculture Department completed its share of inspections on paper forms and stored the information in filing cabinets. The extra workload after 2011 demanded a less cumbersome process. The Department of Agriculture now conducts approximately 65 anhydrous ammonia facility inspections per year.

The department decided to deploy an electronic inspection and investigation system by Kelly Registration Systems. The platform allows authorized staff to input and store inspection data on digitized forms along with supporting documents and photos.

To integrate the insurance department’s existing data on prior inspections, Gray said the Agriculture Department received a database from the other department. That database and the Agriculture Department’s hard-copy inspection forms were integrated into the new inspection system.

Instead of exploring and testing other systems, Gray said the platform by Kelly Registration Systems was deployed because the department was already using products by the same vendor for other inspections. In 2007, the Agriculture Department worked with the company to create a platform for completing field inspections for the state’s pesticide programs. The platform serves as a reporting mechanism, complete with digitized inspection forms and a Web-based platform for managing data.

“That had resulted in some pretty significant gains in the efficiency and use of our resources,” Gray said. “So we were looking to create a similar model with the anhydrous ammonia program since we are a very small agency with pretty scarce resources.”

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.