A multitude of things on the farm can kill us. We can fall off hay wagons, get pinched between the tractor and an implement, get stomped on by a mad momma cow. Been there, done that, got the torn t-shirt.
But the killer that's getting the most attention these days is grain entrapment. This week, April 13-17, is officially Stand Up 4 Grain Safety Week, led by the National Feed and Grain Association, OSHA, the Grain Handling Safety Council and the Grain Elevator and Processing Society.
In the past decade, we've put up hundreds of millions of dollars worth of on-farm storage across America. It's one of the most important things we've done to help take the edge off of that "price taker, not price maker" situation that commodity farms naturally face.
It's also been one of the most potentially deadly decisions we've made, considering how the number of grain entrapment deaths have increased along with all that shiny steel.
According to the aforementioned safety week alliance, there were 27 more grain entrapments in 2019 compared to the year before. Knowing that entrapments are INCREASING, despite all the news articles written and training sessions held and all the new safety equipment that's been created in the past decade, is simply terrifying.
Here's a few more scary facts to consider: Thanks to flat markets and healthy harvests, we have about 5.8 billion bushels of grain stored on farms, as of March 31; we're going through a lot of wet/dry weather cycles which can wreak havoc on stored grain; and we're going into the spring grain movement season while at the same time needing to practice social distancing. That all makes the potential for entrapments even more worrisome. The alliance emphasizes that 67% of entrapments are fatal.
Grain safety is a big cause here at DTN. Our subscribers include farms of all sizes and the lion's share of commercial grain elevators around the U.S. and Canada. That's a lot of grain bins that need tending.
We write about the issue regularly on these pages, and in Progressive Farmer magazine. Grain safety is also a big charge of The Progressive Agriculture Foundation, the national farm safety group that was born in the pages of Progressive Farmer, then became a separate non-profit entity. The foundation is a long-term supporter of our DTN Ag Summit.
Speaking of Summit, this past year's event included promotion of the movie "Silo," and hosted its producer, Samuel Goldberg. We continue to work on ways to get that movie and its message into communities across rural America.
Full disclosure, this issue hits close to home to me personally as well. I will never forget the day, as a high school kid working for a neighbor, I looked up at the sunlight coming through a bin roof hatch, the ladder just out of reach, as I dropped into a collapsing grain column. There was no one around to hear me scream, so I don't think I even tried. Luckily for me, I was stirring a bin full of hot fescue seed that day, not the more quicksand-like corn or soybeans. Somehow the long-handled corn shovel I was holding went perpendicular to my body, and the broad, flat surface of the shovel made contact with the packed fescue seed a few feet away. That stopped me sinking just short of my waist, and I was able to wiggle around and press myself up against the shovel handle and out of my predicament.
I vaguely remember getting to the inside ladder, but recall nothing of crawling back out of the hatch and down the outside of the bin. At some point, I was sitting on the hard dirt of the barn lot, shaking, and thinking had I not gotten out it might have been dinner time before someone noticed I was missing.
It was days before I could make myself climb a bin ladder again, let alone go inside.
That was more than 40 years ago. I still pause, clinging to the ladder like Neal Armstrong stepping onto the lunar surface for the first time, as I take that first step onto the grain surface inside a bin. We didn't really know a lot about coning and grain columns back then. There were no safety harnesses for sale, no training films. No one thought to make sure someone was nearby, with at least a rope in hand.
We know a lot more now, and I can think of at least 27 reasons to be more careful this year than last.
Events like Stand Up 4 Grain Safety Week hopefully remind us how dangerous grain handling can be, and we'll all take a few more minutes to be careful, to make a quick phone call and have someone close at hand whenever we go into a bin of grain.
Our communities have enough to worry about around COVID-19. Let's be safe and take this grain bin worry off the table.
For more information on Stand Up 4 for Grain Safety Week, see the alliance website at: https://standup4grainsafety.org/…
For information on showing the movie Silo, go to: https://www.silothefilm.com/…
More Progressive Agriculture Foundation information can be found at: https://www.progressiveag.org/…
Some of DTN's past coverage on grain bin safety can be found at:
Greg D. Horstmeier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow him on Twitter @greghorstmeier
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