Grain quality issues increase risk of farmer entrapment

Due to the late 2019 harvest, many farmers stored grain at higher than recommended moisture levels this fall. That increases the risk of entrapment if they enter their bins to check out grain quality issues or fix plugged augers, said Gary Woodruff, a grain conditioning expert with GSI.

Woodruff says grain stored above 15% moisture, often related to insufficient drying capacity or relying only on aeration, can cause it to degrade in the bin and become more 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.”

New technology currently in development, GrainViz from GSI, will further help farmers monitor and manage grain quality remotely by creating 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 cautions that entering the bin and walking on the surface runs 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 said these include:

  • Wearing a rope and harness to prevent falling into grain if the surface breaks.
  • Always having another person be present who can call for emergency assistance if entrapment should happen.
  • Locking out all electrical controls so augers cannot run when anyone is in the bin.
  • Consulting 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.

Sims Construction, a GSI dealer based in London, Ohio, provides several services to help its customers deal with grain storage issues in a safe manner.

“We’ve heard from many farmers who are having grain storage problems due to high moisture and the lack of cold weather,” said Ken Sims, dealership president.


Sims provides PTO-powered grain vacs for rent that can be used to remove grain safely from outside the bottom of a bin down to the point where a clog or other grain problem is located.

“We keep two grain vacs at our operation that we offer as a service to our customers, and both are being used full-time,” he said. “We’re also happy to offer advice to farmers on the safe ways to remove grain from plugged bins without doing damage to the bin. If we can’t answer their questions, we will direct them to a source who can.”

He also recommends installing sump guards, sometimes called “clod-busters.” These are pyramid-shaped metal grates that cover the bin’s center well to help break up clumps of moist grain as an aide in preventing plugged sumps.

“Our goal is to help customers address grain storage problems without having to enter a bin. But if they do, we encourage them to avoid taking unnecessary risks by using the proper equipment and having someone with them to assist,” Sims said.

As an additional safety measure, the company has a GSI Res-Q-Tube that can be used by local emergency responders to extract a person entrapped or engulfed in a bin. The device is a 60-inch tall, 27-pound shield constructed to fit around the victim with three additional 30-inch diameter shields to stop the flow of the grain toward the person. It is constructed of lightweight aluminum to be easy for rescuers to transport and maneuver.

“We are currently working with GSI to schedule grain bin extraction training using Res-Q-Tubes for emergency responders and other interested participants at the Madison County Emergency Management Agency’s annual Safety Expo Days Aug. 29,” Sims said.

He adds that the dealership is planning to donate one of the rescue devices to a fire department centrally located in Madison County.

For additional information, farmers can contact their GSI dealer or visit

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