Successful grain producers are firm believers in prevention as the first defense against pests in their grain bins. But sometimes, prevention is not enough.

An entomologist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension Systems says producers should first vacuum or sweep empty grain bins thoroughly to remove insect debris and any remaining grain before new grain is stored. Additional steps, such as loading the grain at the appropriate moisture level and treating the empty bin and grain with EPA-approved insecticides, can discourage the development of stored grain insects.

But all too often, Kathy Flanders, Extension entomologist says, farmers will find it necessary to go a step farther and fumigate the grain to eliminate pests.

While fumigation is a common practice across the South, where insects are a common threat to stored grain, it carries significant risks.

Flanders says the most common fumigant used for on-farm grain bins is aluminum phosphide, which breaks down into phosphine gas, a highly toxic, reactive and potentially explosive gas. That’s why she says careful planning and monitoring are critical.

A carefully worked out fumigation plan should reflect an understanding of the chemical properties and safety issues associated with the fumigant of choice, Flanders says. The plan also should outline all the steps that should be taken before, during and after fumigation.

Without careful planning, employers can place themselves and their employees at serious, potentially life-threatening risk.

“In fact, the law requires a fumigation plan,” says Flanders. “A fact many farmers may not be aware of because the requirement has been in effect only a few years.”

In creating a plan, a producer first should consult the fumigant’s applicators manual, a multi-page guide that is part of the fumigant’s EPA-assigned label.

Preparing the grain bin for treatment is another critical part of the fumigation process.

“If the grain bin can’t be sealed, fumigation will be ineffective and unsafe,” Flanders says, adding that all openings should be sealed with caulk, expandable foam or duct tape and plastic. If the roof and eaves of the bin cannot be sealed, a plastic tarp can be placed over the surface of the grain to keep the fumigant inside the bin.

Monitoring is also critical, Flanders says.

“For everyone’s safety, it’s important to monitor the bin to make sure the fumigant is not escaping and spreading into other areas of the farm, such as the farm office, which may be located nearby,” she says.

“Anyone who fumigates is required to keep a log of the concentration of phosphine gas at critical locations during the fumigation process,” Flanders says.

To make it easier for producers to comply with these new laws associated with fumigation, the Alabama Farmers Federation Wheat and Feed Grain Committee has purchased some phosphine gas detectors.

Farmers can borrow a digital phosphine detector from the following people: Eric Schavey, Tennessee Valley Research and Extension Center, Belle Mina; Leonard Kuykendall, regional Extension agent, Autaugaville; Brian Gamble, Wiregrass Research and Extension Center, Headland; Gerry McGhee, chief, Atmore Fire Department, Atmore; and Doug Trantham, Trantham Farms, Alexandria.

For additional contact information, visit: http://www.aces.edu/dept/grain/WhereCanIBorrowAPhosphineGasDetector.php.

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s Stored Grain Web site features a variety of printed, audio and video media on stored grain: http://www.aces.edu/dept/grain/StoredGrainInformation.php.

Producers can contact their regional Extension crops agent for additional information or access the following publications at the Alabama Extension Web site:

• “IPM Tactics for On-Farm Stored Grain,” ANR-1126.

• “Fumigating Agricultural Commodities with Phosphine,” ANR-1154.

• “IPM Stored Grains, 2008,” IPM-330.