We all have fears. For some like my mother-in-law, it’s spiders. For many, it’s public speaking, or perhaps just a general fear of the unknown! Since becoming a farm wife, I’ve developed a new fear—grain entrapment.
For many used to working on a farm like my husband Craig, climbing up and in is old hat. The first time I attempted it, my hands were sweaty and my heart was pounding. The sweaty palms were especially nerving since most of the grain bins on my father-in-law’s farm have ladders on the outside sending you straight up with nothing below you but the hard ground. Only one bin has a staircase alongside it, which I definitely prefer!
But once I crawled in, I sunk in to my knees in corn kernels. Walking around across the bin is not an easy task with suction pulling your legs down with every step. It’s frightening to me that there are some farmers and people working in agriculture who sink in even farther and don’t make it out alive because the flow of grain is often equated to the flow of quicksand.
While volunteering at our county fair last year, I oversaw the “grain entrapment” activity. A small grain bin is placed on the floor with a rope coming out of the top. Through a weighted system, it can tell the participant pulling up on the rope how many pounds of force they are exerting. According to Iowa State University, the strength required to lift a 165-pound person out of shoulder-deep grain is 625 pounds of force. Let’s just say, a lot of strapping men who thought that sounded easy walked away at least knowing they’d need a different plan to pull someone out of danger.
Many county Iowa Farm Bureaus, including Story County Farm Bureau, have fundraised for and donated rescue grain tubes to their local fire department. These tubes are placed around the person who is trapped to stop the flow of grain from sucking them down farther into the bin. Then the grain around them can be shoveled out until it is feasible to pull the person out.
Some best safety practices to keep in mind include locking access to grain storage, securing ladders, turning off power to unloading augers, wearing a body harness and not working alone or notifying others where you are. Even on days when Craig’s doing a quick check, I stand outside the bin in case he calls for help. And of course, take extra precautions when children are on the farm. It’s a great place to grow up, but also one that has risks.
If you work with grain, please take precaution, but also take time to pause at the top because when you’re safe, you get to enjoy the little things—like the view! Who knew conquering fears could be so beautiful?
By Caitlyn Lamm. Caitlyn is Iowa Farm Bureau's public relations specialist.