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Grain bin safety is critical

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Published on April 11, 2020

“In the coming weeks, as spring starts to bring warmer temperatures, grain held through the winter at high moisture content should be dried or marketed as soon as possible to prevent quality loss and mold growth,” say Iowa State University Extension Agricultural Engineering Specialists Kristina TeBockhorst and Shawn Shouse in an Iowa State Integrated Crop Management publication. 

TeBockhorst and Shouse urge growers to monitor their grain condition and act fast if they detect any hot spots, a musty or moldy odor or elevated CO2 levels, above 600 ppm. 

Drying wet grain

            TeBockhorst and Shouse say grain held over the winter at a very high moisture content of about 20 percent, may have already used its safe allowable storage life.

            “For this grain, it may not be advised to attempt to store it any longer after drying it out this spring,” they say. “Be sure to account for a shorter allowable storage time with low test weight and low-quality grain.” 

            The two Extension specialists note wet grain should be dried as soon as spring temperatures start to warm up. They say conditions become suitable for natural air or low-temperature bin drying when the average daily temperatures reach above 40 degrees. 

            “The air dewpoint temperature gives us a good indication of whether air has much capacity to dry,” TeBockhorst and Shouse explain. “A 20 degree difference between the air temperature and the air dewpoint temperature indicates good drying conditions.” 

            TeBockhorst and Shouse tell growers not to warm grain that is already dry if they intend to keep storing it. Instead, they recommend running aeration cycles in cool weather to maintain grain temperatures below 40 degrees.

            “A large drying fan can cool a bin in nearly 15 hours, while an aeration fan will take close to a week to cool a bin,” they say. 

            “If grain temperature is well below freezing, such as 20 degrees, gradually warming it to just above freezing may prevent excessive condensation and frozen chunks this spring and summer,” they continue. 

Using safety practices 

            With the potential for poor quality grain in the bin, TeBockhorst and Shouse say it is especially important to use good grain safety practices.

            “Following the wet and late harvest of 2019, conditions are aligning to create the potential for tragic accidents and grain suffocation deaths to occur when grain bins are emptied,” says fellow Iowa State University Extension Agricultural Engineering Specialist Charles Schwab.

            “Poor-quality grain can cause problems such as surface crusting, hollow spots in the grain mass, grain that won’t flow when unloading and sidewall buildup in the bin,” TeBockhorst and Shouse explain. 

            Schwab chimes in, “Grain’s tremendous force to hold victims and the speed entrapment occurs are often misunderstood.”

            He continues, “Once the operator determines unloading the grain is becoming difficult, their attention should switch from the priority of getting the grain out to keeping everyone involved safe.”  

            TeBockhorst and Shouse suggest individuals should not enter a bin if they notice surface crusting, grain that won’t flow while unloading and sidewall buildup. Instead, they recommend working on the grain from above by poking and prodding it.

            “If growers have good-quality grain and they must enter a bin, they should have an observer with them and use a life harness and lockout grain equipment,” they say.

            Hannah Bugas is the assistant editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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