Caution urged at harvest to avoid grain bin deaths

Farm Forum

CLEAR LAKE, Minn. (AP) — Safety advocates are urging Minnesota farmers to be cautious around storage bins and elevators when working on this year’s big corn crop.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is predicting the state’s corn harvest could reach 1.34 billion bushels this year, which would be the second largest in history, just slightly behind 2012, said Adam Czech, spokesman with the Minnesota Corn Growers Association.

Farming is frequently ranked as one of the world’s most dangerous professions, and one of the leading causes of farm deaths and serious injury is grain bin accidents, according to the St. Cloud Times.

“We often see that when we have a bigger crop, there’s more work in getting the harvest done – sometimes later hours, longer days, more stress,” said Dan Martens, educator with the University of Minnesota Extension Service in Benton County. “And that can increase the risk of having accidents.”

Czech advises farmers to take their time when working on the harvest.

Inspectors from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration found a main reason for farm accidents was employees walking on top of the grain in grain bins. Often, the employees who became engulfed in grain went inside a grain bin to try to dislodge or break up the grain.

Steve Beck, who farms in the Clear Lake Township, lost his father Robert Beck 11 years ago when he was working alone and apparently went into the grain bin because the corn had stopped flowing. Although it’s not clear exactly what happened, Beck suspects a hollow space had formed under the top crust, an effect known as bridging. Robert Beck fell in and suffocated.

“Every time you climb up on a grain bin, you have to stop and think about what you’re doing,” Steve Beck said.

Adding to the concern about storage are delays along the railroads used to transport grain. With an increase in trains carrying oil from the Bakken fields of North Dakota to refineries around the country, shipments have been slowed, which could mean more grain going into bins and elevators.

“The concern is that if these rail issues keep up, we’re going to have a backlog,” Czech said.