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Minnesota Legislature

Lawmakers consider proposal for grain bin safety app

Rep. Jeff Brand testifies before the House Agriculture and Food Finance and Policy Division March 12. His bill, HF3926, would appropriate funds for the design of digital applications that would allow a person to remotely turn off a grain storage facility via cell phone or other electronic device. Photo by Paul Battaglia

Last month, Michele Gran lobbied a House division to consider safety measures that she hopes will prevent another mother from going through what she’s been through.

Gran’s 18-year-old son, Landon, died Aug. 14 after his legs got caught in an auger while he was cleaning a nearly empty corn bin on a farm two miles south of his family’s hog farm near Norseland.

In addition to the safety grants and education program proposed in that legislation, the same lawmaker has introduced another bill to try to prevent such deaths.

Rep. Jeff Brand (DFL-St. Peter) sponsors HF3926, which would provide a $25,000 grant to the University of Minnesota to design an app that would remotely shut down a grain bin power auger through a cell phone or other device.

Grain storage facility safety funding bill heard 3/12/20

Landon died in the bin after being alone for hours, his mother said.

Brand said such an app could allow someone to quickly get help by pressing a button. He said there already are some grain bin apps, but they’re geared toward things like calculating bushels in a bin, not safety.

As with HF3224, the House Agriculture and Food Finance and Policy Division laid HF3926 over for possible omnibus bill inclusion. The companion, SF3396, is sponsored by Sen. Rich Draheim (R-Madison Lake) and awaits action by the Senate Agriculture, Rural Development, and Housing Finance Committee.

Rep. Debra Kiel (R-Crookston) questioned whether grain bin manufacturers might already be working to create something similar to the proposed app.

Brand said he’s not aware they are, but doubted they would share such information. He added that a relative told Michele Gran he was going to start working to invent something like the proposed app. Brand’s intent is to make it a more open source, less-guarded technology.

Rep. Tim Miller (R-Prinsburg) said he’s worked around emerging agriculture technology and public-private partnerships, and there are probably companies doing this already because they have a liability. He said there’s also a challenge in having a public university come up with intellectual property because “they don’t share well.”

Rep. Paul Anderson (R-Starbuck) questioned whether an app would work in a steel grain bin, or surrounded by thousands of bushels of corn.

“I like your idea,” he said. “But we have to be careful about building up some false security … that these systems would work.”

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