Grain bin deaths are on the rise and it’s completely avoidable.

In July, a 65-year-old Iowa farmer was in his grain bin, loosening stuck corn. It was something he had done dozens of times before without any problem. This time was different, however. The crust broke, pulling him down into the corn to his death. Two weeks earlier, a similar grain entrapment situation happened in North Dakota. There a 56-year-old woman died in a Stutsman County bin accident.

Grain bin deaths are on the rise this year, continuing a trend. From 2018 to 2019, instances of grain entrapment rose by 27 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Deaths rose by 53 percent over the same period. Just halfway through 2020, we’ve already passed last year’s grain bin death total and the numbers keep rising.

I’ve mentioned before about the need to take precautions in the grain bin. Now is a critical time to do just that, since the number of entrapments and grain bin deaths increase during harvest season. We all had to harvest crops much later than usual last year, thanks to heavy rains and cooler than normal conditions. That combination meant grain was immature at best during harvest and some crops were out-of-condition.

Low quality grain is much more likely to clump or form a crust in the bin. This is especially true when you haven’t monitored your grain’s temperature throughout the year. You want to break up those clumps, but outside tools don’t work. As a result, farmers are spending more time inside their grain bins than usual.

Avoid Grain Bin Deaths

The biggest thing to remember is that grain quality is tied to safety. The more out-of-condition a crop is, the more challenges you’ll have. For most farmers, the 2019 crop was a good example of this. It was wet going in, it didn’t dry well and as a result, there’s a lot of broken, sticky material in the bins.  

Even the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration made an announcement this year. OSHA sent out a notice to grain farmers in February, saying due to heavy rains, grain bin deaths are on the rise. The note added that “similar weather conditions in 2009 resulted in the industry’s highest number of injuries and fatalities.”

It doesn’t have to be this way. You can monitor and control how crops dry, the rate, and the temperature they do it in. That’s what will keep you out of the bin and away from potential crust pockets.

First, let’s talk about the temperature. If air temperature isn’t controlled, that moisture we mentioned earlier will build up, causing rot and sticky clumps. Let’s say your grain harvest had 17 percent moisture. The USDA Farm Service Agency says you could store that at 80 degrees for 27 days. That gives you a month before it starts to rot. If you dropped that temperature to 40 degrees, the crop will last 282 days without rot, giving you a lot more time to find a buyer. You can use a portable device to monitor temperature or, better yet, handle it remotely.

Lower Grain Temperature to Keep Grain Dry

It’s not enough to just monitor the bin’s temperature. In order to keep the grain clean and maintain safety, you have to lower the temperature. Most older farmers I’ve encountered have a simple method: keep grain within 10 to 15 degrees of the temperature outside.

The argument’s always been that the grain will cool off during the winter and you don’t need to worry about anything before then. There’s a problem with that logic, however.

“Because grain has fairly good insulating qualities, most of the large center mass of grain and air in the bin remains at about the same temperature as it was when placed in storage,” says a 2018 report from Purdue University.

The center mass grain doesn’t dry out, Purdue officials argue. Instead, it stays wet, developing mold and sticking to the bin. Because it’s in the center, you can’t remove the mass remotely. You can’t reach in from outside.

In order to solve the problem, a farmer has to climb in the bin, watch out for crust pockets and physically try to clean up the sticky material. This is how 99 percent of grain bin deaths happen. By changing this one thing, you reduce the chance of a bin accident to practically zero.

In order to dry out the grain, it needs to be cooler.  According to the University of Minnesota’s Cooperative Extension, “the objective is to reduce grain temperature below 35 degrees Fahrenheit but not lower than 20 degrees.” Extension officials recommend using fans for this.

Grain Bin Deaths: Don’t Be a Statistic

If you do have to climb inside the grain bin, take precautions. First, shut off all augers or unloaders. Also, be sure to wear a harness. Finally, Extension officials ask farmers to always have someone else nearby, so they can call for help if need be.

Don’t cut corners on safety. Keep grain in top condition with grain temperature monitoring that gives you a heads up when you need to take action. Discover this and other benefits when you talk to a grain storage specvialist at Tri-States Grain Conditioning. Call us today at 712 336 0199 or contact us here and leave your number in the message box. 

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