So far this year, there has been a huge increase in the number of bins that have become plugged requiring that they be unplugged to empty them, exposing all that do so to a great deal of danger. The deaths from entrapment's have started much earlier than normal with 2 or 3 deaths each in Indiana and Minnesota, to date.
Below are answers written by Gary Woodruff to questions asked by Tom Beckman from the Farm Progress Publications. These responses will end up in a magazine article aimed at farmers storing grain. The questions and answers below will likely not all be in the article, but they do hit the high points for the bins that are ending up plugged this year.
If you have a bin which is plugged now, what steps should you take with safety in mind to first address the situation?
You should first try to determine the type and extent of the problem. Remember Zero entry should always be the goal. Opening and shutting the gate repeatedly may get grain moving. If that doesn’t work turn on the aeration fan and at the top manhole check to see if there are any off-odors. No odor “may” indicate a plug caused by excessive fines and debris blocking the center well. If there are mold odors then additional precautions will have to be taken.
Are there any universal remedies or things to try first in these situations?
No, each situation depending on the problem and size of the bin may require different actions. With today’s large bins at this point it is probably advisable to call in a professional grain handling dealership to investigate and advise on what the next actions should be. They may have equipment that will allow the safe removal of the grain. That may be a rented vacuum system to remove the grain from the top.
- Do not open auxiliary wells to pull grain out away from the center of the bin. This can cause extraordinary pressures inward on the sidewall of the bin causing severe damage and structural issues. This becomes increasingly more likely the larger the bin.
- Do not enter the bin as there may be cavitation voids that you can fall into and become engulfed.
- Do not enter the bin and poke the grain from the top. It will not likely work in any event and often when this is tried all that is accomplished is to poke holes in the floor, damage that will have to be repaired.
- Do not enter the bin or try to break lose any standing wall of grain. Once it breaks lose, it flows like liquid and can mow you down and bury you further away from the grain wall.
- There are seldom any quick or easy ways to fix this type of issue. It is not a good time to experiment without a safe plan or try something potentially dangerous.
First it is not advised to never enter the bin as it is very dangerous even with special training and equipment. There are recommendations from the Ag Universities on safety equipment including tag, lock out systems, harnesses, rope tie offs and breathing masks & equipment along with extra people on hand to be safer, but it will never be safe for the average person.
Absolutely. At the minimum a paper mask which covers the nose and mouth rated on the packaging to be good for mold should always be used if you are anywhere near the bin or exposed to any dust from the handling of any grain. There are more expensive masks with separate filters and head gear that are more comfortable. There is never a time when it is “safe” to enter a bin even when empty due to the respiratory threats that mold and dust create.
With yesterday’s smaller bins, running a 10 or 15hp fan with 1 cfm/bu. airflow would stop minor issues quickly, due to the small mass of grain involved. In today’s larger bins that is not possible, you can keep the grain temperatures down, but the only real fix is to remove the grain that has become compromised. If you are reasonably sure that you have all of the out of condition grain removed from the bin, you could hold the rest of the grain, but careful weekly monitoring will be required to make sure the problem Doesn’t rekindle.
Grain that came in compromised last fall will never see its quality improve. Frost-damaged grain, grain with a high fines content, or grain still at a higher moisture than 15% will only store for a very short period. If you haven’t already dealt with the poor quality grain from last fall, the sooner you use it or sell it the better off you will be.