sealPurdue News Ag Briefs

December 1996

Post-harvest is danger season for grain entrapments, study shows

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: The citation for the study mentioned in this article is: Journal of Agricultural Safety and Health, 2(3):143-156

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- A Purdue University study of grain entrapments deaths over a 30-year period found that the average age of those killed in grain wagons was 11 years old.

That's just one of the grim statistics reported in the national study, which also found that children ages 2 to 16 have the highest frequency of grain entrapment deaths, accounting for 43 percent of all fatalities. Most of the victims were male.

Bill Field, co-author of the study and head of Purdue's Agricultural Safety and Health Program, says, "I'm not opposed to having children in and around farming operations, but parents need to know that children don't belong in grain-handling facilities or transport vehicles of any kind."

Grain entrapments typically occur when farmers enter grain bins to break up out-of-condition grain or to move grain from the sides to the center, so it will enter the flow, and get caught in the flow themselves, or when children riding on grain wagons tumble into the grain and get caught in the flow.

Purdue research shows that because of the speed at which the grain is moving, a person caught in the flow will be so engulfed in just 10 to 15 seconds that escape will be impossible.

"There are five or six reported deaths each year due to grain entrapment," Field says. "Actually, overall most deaths occur in grain bins, and the average age for those dying is 32. But during the harvest months, many of the deaths occur in grain wagons, and in the cases we examined, 29 of 39 people who died in wagons did so in either in October or November."

The 1996 Purdue study analyzed farm fatalities from 1964 to 1994. Data was obtained from the Purdue Farm Fatality Database, the National Institute on Occupational Safety and Health, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the National Safety Council, Farm Safety 4 Just Kids, fatality reports from 46 states, and from mailings to 300 agricultural safety and health professionals.

From this pool of data, the Purdue researchers were able to identify 235 fatal grain entrapments. The study, which was published in the Journal of Agricultural Safety and Health, found that grain entrapments make up approximately 2 percent of the total annual farm deaths; the years with the highest number of grain entrapment deaths were 1986 (26) and 1993 (22).

The majority of the cases -- 79 percent -- involved shelled corn. This has more to do with the way corn is moved and stored on the farm than its physical properties, Field says, because both soybeans and wheat move through the holding facilities at a faster rate.

Using the data from the study, Field and the other researchers were able to glean a few risk factors that most often contributed to the deaths.

"The condition of the grain is the No. 1 risk factor," Field says. "If a farmer is unloading poor condition grain, it tends to clump together and stop flowing. The farmer goes in the bin to break up the clumps of grain -- without first turning off the unloading equipment -- and ends up getting caught in the flow.

"Ninety-two percent of those engulfed in a grain flow died. With a death rate this severe, it would be a lower risk to have a heart attack."

Although just 39 of the 235 fatal entrapments were in grain wagons, these deaths often receive national media coverage because they often involve small children, Field says. Deaths of children are most common in grain wagons, where 87 percent of those killed were under 15 years old.

In addition to keeping children away from grain wagons and bins, Field recommends removing external ladders that might allow children to climb into grain holding facilities on their own, and warning labels that let children know that they are not to play in the grain.

CONTACT: Field (765) 494-1191; e-mail,

Purdue ag economist says family hog farms have profit potential

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- "The hog production industry is in line to have the best period of profits since 1990." That's the optimistic voice of Purdue University agricultural economist Chris Hurt, who foresees happy days ahead for independent pork farmers.

"The industry will have small pork supplies, declining beef supplies, strong domestic and export demand, stable and moderately low interest rates, and sharply lower cost of production," he says.

The USDA reported that farrowing intentions for this fall were nearly unchanged from those of a year ago, and winter farrowings are expected to be down by about 1 percent, Hurt says. "These numbers appear to be consistent with the size of the breeding herd and market expectations. The declines in the breeding herd were greatest in the traditional family hog farm states, with 10 to 12 percent reductions in the breeding herds of Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio," Hurt says. "There also was a surprising drop of 32 percent in the breeding herd in South Dakota and 23 percent in Kentucky."

Hurt says states that expanded their herds were Kansas (28%), Missouri (16%), North Carolina (11%), and Oklahoma (10%). States not among the largest 17 had breeding herds up an estimated 28 percent. He says most of the expansion is expected in Texas, Colorado, and Utah.

How are family farms doing? "Farrowing intentions indicate the family farms probably will not return," Hurt says. "Farrowing intentions for Iowa are down 11 percent and 14 percent for the next two quarters, respectively. In Nebraska, they're down 11 and 9 percent." Farrowings also continue to drop in Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, South Dakota and Kentucky. Other signs of family-farm decline: old age of operators and corn prices that are high enough to grow corn only.

However, Hurt says family hog farms have a strong incentive to come back, because of the high profit potential. "Family operations with 100 sows can generate an anticipated $40,000 to $50,000 of net income above all costs from a farrow-to-finish enterprise," he says. "The corn crop is large in the western Corn Belt, and prices are sharply lower. Corn fed to hogs in a farrow-to-finish operation can generate near $5 per bushel rather than around $3 from selling off-farm. Many of the families have little or no debt on buildings and equipment. They can respond more quickly to current market conditions than corporate farms."

Hurt says he expects live hog prices at terminals to be in the mid-to-upper $50s this winter. Summer should bring $60 prices, with a drop back to the high $40s or low $50s next fall.

Production costs for the coming year are expected to be in the $43 to $45 range, given current corn and protein prices. Terminal prices averaging $55 mean $10 to $12 of profit per hundredweight.

Pork supplies are expected to be down about 4 percent through March. By summer, supplies will rise 2 percent to 3 percent -- still small by historic standards. Expansion will begin with higher sow farrowings in spring, resulting in sharp increases in supplies by next fall. Buildup in the breeding herd can be expected through mid-1998, he says.

CONTACT: Hurt, (765) 494-4273; e-mail,

Indiana State Fair livestock get perfect report card, again

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- For the second consecutive year since testing began, all of the livestock at the 1996 Indiana State Fair passed tests for foreign substances and illegal drugs. State fairs in other states have been plagued by cheating scandals in the last few years.

The animals also were approved for proper age, identification, purity of breed, absence of artificial hair and ethical treatment.

"We have stressed the importance of ethical animal care, and our young men and women have listened and learned," says Henry Wadsworth, director of the Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service. "That's a goal of 4-H -- developing personal skills and good citizenship for today and in the future as adults."

Norm Long, 4-H Extension specialist at Purdue, says the students showing livestock have been accepting of the tests: "These tests are viewed by 4-H'ers as demonstrations to the public that the animals are clean, wholesome, well-cared for, and meet other U.S. Department of Agriculture standards."

Indiana State Fair officials say the tests guard against potential cheating. "It's nice to know that our Indiana 4-H exhibitors are honest. We are proud of these kids," said Jeff Thompson, Indiana State Fair Board president.

CONTACTS: Wadsworth, (765) 494-8489

Long, (765) 494-8435

Thompson, (317) 927-7500

White corn could bring dough to southwestern Indiana

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- White corn could generate big green for farmers in southwestern Indiana, and the Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service is making sure they know it. That opportunity will be emphasized next year, as Gibson County has been asked to host the 1997 National Food Corn Field Day tentatively scheduled for Aug. 20 on grower Lee Binhack's farm.

According to Terry Keeneth, agriculture and natural resources Extension educator in Gibson County, there's a good market for white corn, which is used for food products such as tortillas, taco shells, grits and hominy. Snack food alone is a $10 billion per year industry, and Keeneth would like to see Hoosier farmers get a piece of that.

"White food corn is 1 percent of total corn production," he says. "It's a minor player in the big picture, but it could become a major player in the economy down here. We produce good quality corn here. The climate's good, and there are not a lot of mycotoxins."

Keeneth says a half million acres of corn are grown in the six southwestern Indiana counties that raise white corn (Gibson, Knox, Posey, Spencer, Vanderburgh and Warrick), and any part of that acreage could be switched over to food-grade corn.

Food-grade corn pays better because millers set high standards for corn purchased for human consumption, Keeneth says. Producers can earn 30 cents to $1.50 per bushel more for quality white corn than for regular field corn, so it's important to them, as well.

Binhack, who's grown white corn for 10 years, says he can get at least a 50-cent-per-bushel premium for his crop. But, he says, he has had to prove he can consistently raise a quality product in volume from one year to the next.

"Management and handling are the biggest problems," Binhack says. "You have to get it out of the field with a minimum of damage."

Keeneth says millers will accept no more than 20 percent stress crack damage, because stress-cracked kernels cook at different rates than undamaged ones, yielding an inconsistent end product.

"The building of an Azteca (Milling Co.) plant last year in northern Vanderburgh County sparked interest," Keeneth says. "We've had white corn here for years, but we're refocusing on it now."

Seventy percent of the corn Azteca uses is white corn, he says, and the other 30 percent is yellow food-grade corn. At full capacity the mill would require about 5.5 million bushels of corn per year.

The arrival of Azteca has helped ensure a uniform market and interested more farmers in the crop, according to Binhack. He says that because value-added commodities are hot now and because southwestern Indiana is especially suitable for growing the white corn, the larger farmers are willing to take a risk on it. That, in turn, helps the smaller farmers by creating the market.

"I see a very bright future for white corn," Binhack says. "I think it'll get bigger as it goes along."

CONTACTS: Keeneth, (812) 385-3491; e-mail,
Binhack, (812) 386-7243

Spring fertilizing may reduce take-all disease in winter wheat

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- This year's delayed corn and soybean harvest may have caused some farmers to plant wheat after wheat, and that could mean trouble, according to Purdue University plant pathologists Greg Shaner and Don Huber.

Wheat after wheat can lead to root-rot problems, especially from the disease take-all. The fungus is native to soils nearly everywhere in the world, which is one reason why long crop rotations (one or more years out of wheat) fail to provide more than one year of control.

But the Purdue experts say there are a couple of management practices than can help reduce the chances of losing yield to take-all damage:

First, make sure the field has adequate nitrogen fertilizer in the spring. Nitrogen-deficiency stress increases damage from take-all. Timely, springtime top-dressing when the wheat breaks winter dormancy, with enough nitrogen to maintain a healthy green color in the foliage, will reduce damage.

Ammoniacal nitrogen and slow-release forms of nitrogen tend to suppress the disease, while nitrate forms of nitrogen may favor the disease. High soil pH also favors take-all, and it is not recommended to apply lime prior to wheat, unless the soil pH is below 5.2.

Though it's too late in this growing season to implement the following control method, it's important to note it for next year: Plant following the fly-free date to reduce the severity of take-all. Even when wheat following wheat is planted after the fly-free date, fields should be adequately fertilized in the spring.

The bottom line: As a general management practice, do whatever is possible to avoid planting wheat after wheat.

CONTACTS: Shaner (765) 494-4651; e-mail,
Huber, (765) 494-4652; e-mail,

Compiled by Chris Sigurdson, (765) 494-8415; e-mail,
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

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