A late 2019 harvest caused many farmers to store grain at higher than recommended moisture levels, and that can trigger unsafe conditions when handling that grain.
Wet grain increases the risk of entrapment if farmers enter their bins to check on quality issues or fix plugged augers, said Gary Woodruff, a grain conditioning expert with GSI.
Grain stored above 15% moisture can cause the crop to degrade in the bin and become susceptible to mold.
“Grain went into bins at a lower quality, higher moisture and with more fines this fall, which makes this year much more dangerous,” he said. “That’s why we always emphasize that farmers should never enter a bin when there is a risk of becoming entrapped.”
Woodruff recommends that farmers regularly check the quality of their grain this winter. In addition to grain monitoring controls, he says they should visually inspect their grain at least every other week.
“Climb to the bin manhole and, without entering, look at the grain surface to see if there is crusting or any off-smells that may indicate a mold issue,” he said. “Most problems show up on the surface first. It’s best if a sample from the surface is checked for moisture. Any increase in moisture indicates condition problems in the bin.”
Companies including GSI have created technology to help farmers monitor and manage grain quality remotely. GSI’s GrainViz creates a three-dimensional moisture map using technology similar to that of an MRI or CT scan. Operators can see the moisture content of each individual bushel of grain and its location within the grain mass, without having to enter the bin.
Woodruff cautioned that when farmers enter the bin and walk on the surface, they run the risk of the crust breaking and the farmer tumbling into the grain, becoming quickly engulfed.
“That’s why we always preach a policy of zero entry,” he said. “But if farmers decide to do so anyway, there are precautions they should take.”
Woodruff says these include:
- Wear a rope and harness to prevent falling into grain if the surface breaks.
- Always have another person be present who can call for emergency assistance if entrapment should happen.
- Lock out all electrical controls so augers cannot run when anyone is in the bin.
- Consult local university websites for additional grain bin safety recommendations.
Woodruff notes that the only real fix for out-of-condition grain is to unload the bin down to where the affected grain can be removed. This likely means the grain will have to be marketed early, and poor quality may receive a dock at the elevator. Or if the grain is too out of condition to sell, it will need to be dumped back in the field.