Stu Ellis: Drier Corn in Illinois Should Mean Safer Storage For Farmers

Mother Nature did farmers a great favor this year. Warm temperatures and sparse rain in August meant the corn crop matured at lightspeed.

And the ensuing weather has been on a parallel track allowing the first half of the crop to be harvest with little delay and particularly at relatively lower than average moisture.

There is not much high-moisture corn being harvested this year, as in most years when it has to go through the dryer for a long time before it gets down to a storable moisture of 15 percent or less.

And that could just be very significant when Bill Field tallies his data next spring. You’ll find out who he is in a moment.

Because of the shortage of South American corn last spring and the heavy imports of U.S. corn by China, typical corn stocks at the end of the summer were low and supplies were difficult to find.

That is why many processors were paying a premium for early harvested corn, without any moisture discount.

Subsequently, most of the corn that was harvested too wet to store in farm bins was delivered to processors.

That means most of the corn being harvested now is about 15 percent moisture or less. Yes, corn that is less than 15 percent means lost money when it crosses the scales.

But for the farm family, that lower moisture corn is a godsend.

Corn going into a farm bin now at 15 percent moisture or less should be in good condition next spring when it is time to “haul it to town.” The operable term is “good condition.”

That means it will flow out of the bin without chucks of spoiled grain plugging the floor openings in the bin, enticing farmers to climb inside and try to break it up.

When spoiled corn or soybeans, or any type of grain congeals and does not flow out of a grain bin, the first response is to climb inside, break up the chunks, climb back out of the bin, and resume loading the grain truck.

Not everyone climbs back out. When they don’t answer the dinner bell and don’t answer their phone, and the family finds the hatch door on the top of the grain bin still open, the rural fire department is called.

The side of the bin is cut open, grain flows out. One’s remains are retrieved and Purdue agricultural safety specialist Bill Field tallies another Corn Belt grain bin fatality.

Each year, Field and Purdue University issue the Grain Bin Entrapment and Confined Space Accident Report, detailing these agricultural accidents.

A minimum of 35 grain-related entrapments were documented in 2020 in the annual report released in mid-March by the Agricultural Safety and Health Program at Purdue University, and 57% were fatal.

The five-year entrapment average continues to drop from its peak of 40.4 in 2011.

The state with the most number of grain entrapments in 2020 was Illinois with 10 cases.

The long-term trend is flat. About the same number of farmers lose their life in grain bins every year. Up a couple some years, down a couple in others. Illinois always is ahead of other states.

With the quick dry-down of the corn crop, and processors taking most of the higher moisture levels of corn, grain going into farm bins this fall should be drier than usual.

That means it will flow better next spring, fewer farmers will climb inside, and there may be fewer tallies on Bill Field’s chalkboard. Godsend.