Film ‘SILO’ depicts deadly risks to farmers who store grain

EVANSVILLE, Ind., Sept. 6 (UPI) — A new independent film, SILO, premiering in communities across the Midwest focuses on a deadly — and common — type of farming accident called grain entrapment.

The movie, called SILO, depicts the day that a teenager becomes entrapped in a 50-foot-tall grain bin full of corn and his community works frantically to save him.

“At first, we thought this topic would be a really good piece of art,” said Sam Goldberg, the film’s producer. “But, as we did more research, and talked to agricultural professors, industry workers and firefighters, we realized these accidents are very frequent and preventable. And farmers wanted this issue depicted in a real manner.”

Farm grain bin accidents kill dozens of people each year, and injure dozens more, according to Purdue University’s Agricultural Safety and Health Program.

They can happen in a number of ways.

Usually, accidents occur when grain clumps together in the bin, preventing it from flowing out of the container, said Jeff Adkisson, a board member on the Grain Handling Safety Council. The farmer has to enter the container to break up the grain. But, when he does that, the grain can easily become quicksand, sucking the farmer down in a matter of seconds.

“When you have an engulfment, that means you are under the grain, fully submerged,” Adkisson said. “An entrapment is when someone is trapped up to about their abdomen, and they can’t get out. Nearly every full engulfment results in a recovery, not a rescue. We recover the body.”

In 2018, 27 people died in grain accidents, according to Purdue. Fifteen of those deaths were entrapments.

Experts worry that the number of grain bin deaths will rise dramatically next year. The reason is, this year’s crop will likely be harvested when it is too wet for optimal storage. Heavy and prolonged spring rains and flooding delayed farmers across the Midwest from planting this year. That delay means the crop will have less time to dry before it must be harvested this fall, Adkisson said.

The wetter grains are when they go into the bin, the more likely they are to clump together, he said. And that means more farmers will be entering their bins next year to break it up.

The last time Mother Nature forced farmers to store grain this wet was in 2010, Adkisson said. That year, the number of deaths from grain bin entrapments was 26, nearly double the 15 in 2018.

We just have a concern this year that the late planted crops may not fully mature and dry out in the field,” Adkisson said. “That could create problems.”

Exacerbating that problem is the fact that more grain than ever is being stored on farms across the Midwest. America’s various trade disputes — especially the one with China — are limiting the amount of grain farmers are able to sell, forcing them to store more of it for longer periods.

The majority of deadly accidents occur on the farm, said Adkisson, who is also the executive vice president of the Grain and Feed Coalition of Illinois. Grain elevators have a number of safety procedures they follow that dramatically reduce accidents.

“The statistics say 70 percent of entrapments or engulfments happen on the farm,” Adkisson said. “Farmers working alone. We encourage farmers never to work alone.”

Adkisson said he hopes the movie SILO will raise awareness among farmers of the dangers associated with storing grain, and encourage them to take more safety precautions.

The film’s producers have partnered with the Grain Handling Safety Council to create and distribute a safety curriculum for farmers.

“The partnership with SILO presents us with a new opportunity to reach audiences,” Robert Aherin, the agricultural safety program leader at the University of Illinois, and a Grain Handling Safety Council board member, said in a statement. “The movie provides entertainment, a way to engage the audience and spark conversation about farm safety.”

The film will be shown in select communities across the country this fall. Its producers are partnering with community organizations to host special screenings. For a full list of locations, click here.

“This movie has changed my philosophy about agriculture and how our food is produced and how appreciative we should be of our farmers,” Goldberg, the film’s producer, said. “It is a really challenging job, and it isn’t getting any easier.”