Grain bin fumigation is a crucial but dangerous aspect of any grain farmer’s operation. The process of fumigating for pests begins well before grain enters the bin. The key to managing insect populations before, during and after the fumigation process is sanitation. Katelyn Kesheimer, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System entomology and plant pathology specialist, offers some information on fumigation’s dangers and how to remain as safe as possible during the process.
Before the fumigation process
“It is important to begin storage with the lowest possible insect population in the bin,” Kesheimer said. “This means cleaning storage facilities inside and out to remove any insects already present.”
Cleaning up weeds and other crop debris in bins can lower insect and rodent problems. Inspecting bins for cracks and gaps is important to do before grain is inside. Seal the cracks and gaps with polyurethane foam. Then treat empty bins with insecticides to kill any insects before adding grain.
“Once you have too many insects in the bin, it is time to fumigate,” Kesheimer said.
Dangers of the fumigation process
Producers use aluminum phosphide for fumigation. It is typically available in pellet or tablet forms, or as paper sachets, plates or strips. These give off phosphine gas when exposed to the moisture and heat of the bins. The most dangerous and common method of exposure is the inhalation of fumigants.
Keshmeimer emphasized that putting aluminum phosphide on a wet surface or near water should never occur. Doing this will release phosphine gas and a reaction will occur that will cause a fire or explosion.
Safety during the fumigating process
Before using many insecticides, especially those used for fumigation, the law requires individuals to attain a pesticide applicator permit. If producers are unfamiliar with grain bin fumigation, Kesheimer suggests hiring an outside company with trained professionals.
Storing fumigants in cool, dry, well-ventilated places away from heat at all times is crucial. Labeling this area as pesticide storage is crucial, and Kesheimer recommends locking it to prevent unwanted or unintended outside access.
“Personal protective equipment is required for fumigation, including respiratory protection and gloves,” she said. “If you have to enter the structure for any reason, wear specially approved respiratory equipment.”
Alabama Cooperative Extension contributed this article.