Water rose rapidly in Mills County, Iowa, destroying grain bins 2018 March

Water rose rapidly in Mills County, Iowa, destroying grain bins when the grain inside swelled and burst the sides of the structure.

Editor’s note: The following was written by Charles Hurburgh, Iowa State University professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering, for the university’s Integrated Crop Management website March 19.

The rapid snowmelt in spring 2019 has caused instances of stored grain being covered with floodwater. By current Food and Drug Administration policy, grain inundated by uncontrolled river or stream water is considered adulterated and must be destroyed.

The situation in 2019 is one of river water flooding rather than of rain-driven pooled water in low ground, for which there are salvage options. River-based floodwaters can bring in many hazards and rapid spoilage.

Salvaging ‘good’ grain

Flood damaged grain is adulterated grain because of the potential for many contaminants to enter through the water. This grain should be destroyed, never blended. Contact local Department of Natural Resources officials for the best disposal process in your area.

The moisture won’t travel more than a foot above the flood water line, so some grain can be salvaged. First follow this checklist:

  • Cut all power and professionally verify that all structures are not energized.
  • Determine where the water line was, and therefore the extent of adulterated grain.
  • Consult your insurance carrier before moving any grain.

Remove good grain on top of flooded grain from the top or side, not down through the flooded grain. The good grain is still suspect, which is why FDA must evaluate the situation on a case-by-case basis before it can be sold into any uses.

Do not start aeration fans on flooded bins. Have the entire structure and related electrical components inspected by a qualified electrician to verify that nothing is still energized before taking action to salvage the grain. Use professional salvage operators that will take correct safety precautions for bin entry.

Mold toxins are likely in rewetted grain. Warm, wet conditions are ideal for mold growth. Moldy grain is a safety hazard. Use precautions and wear protective equipment when working with moldy grain. Grain will be moldy by the time the water has receded.

Take care not to track or mix mud or gravel from flooded grounds into good grain during salvage operations. These materials are potentially toxic for the same reasons as the floodwaters.


Grains swell when wet so bin damage is likely — more so with soybeans. Bolts can shear or holes can elongate. Look for signs such as stretched caulking seals, doors misaligned or similar structural problems.

Stay aware for signs of failure when working around bins containing wetted grain.

Bin foundations can shift, float or deteriorate from flooding. Inspect structures and foundations carefully, and have an engineering evaluation for larger bins.

Expect electric wiring, controls, motors and fans to be ruined. Do not energize wet components. Be sure the power is off and locked out before touching any electrical components of flooded systems.

Wood structures will be hard hit and may retain mold and contaminants.

Clean and disinfect facilities and grounds completely. Then do a careful food safety inspection before returning facilities to operation. A third party inspection is recommended. Maintain records of cleaning.

Feeding grain

Evaluation and potential reconditioning for further sale has to be done with the written consent of FDA. For on-farm feeding of the good grain, develop a use plan in consultation with a veterinarian. For feed on-site by owner, producers have three alternatives:

  • Dry the grain if needed.
  • Feed it immediately to their livestock.
  • If wet, ensile the grain for future livestock feed, in bunkers or bags. Ensiling may be the best way of protecting quality and palatability of wetter grain.

There is no problem, other than spoilage within a day or two, with using uncontaminated soaked corn as a livestock feed. Just replace the corn in the animals’ current diet with the wet corn. Remember to adjust amounts fed for moisture.

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