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Oklahoma highway drivers warned of roadside grain dumping

A sign on I-35 near the Stillwater exit warns drivers to not dump their grain trailers.
Anna Pope / KOSU
A sign on I-35 near the Stillwater exit warns drivers to not dump their grain trailers.

Why grain would get dumped on the side of the road is a mystery to many, but it happens.

Oklahomans driving north on I-35 may pass a sign warning drivers to not dump their grain trailers before the Stillwater exit on the interstate. These signs are sometimes put up to serve as a reminder for haulers to clean up grain left on the ground. Grain can fall out of trucks and perhaps can be intentionally dumped to reduce load weight or cleaning out trailers.

Exposed grain dumped on the roadside can lure wildlife to busy streets, increasing the risk of accidents. Jonathan Ryan, an area maintenance manager for District 4 in Oklahoma’s Department of Transportation, said mounds of grain are found any time of the year when maintenance employees are cleaning rest stops, mostly during harvest, across the country.

“We don’t know who does it, but every once in a while we find nice big piles of grain that have been lost or dumped and not cleaned up, and so then my guys have to spend the day cleaning up when they could be patching the road or doing other work,” Ryan said.

If grain is left anywhere, it usually attracts wildlife such as birds and feral hogs. Jeff Pennington, a biologist for Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, said he’s never seen this on the roadside, but the main reason not to dump grain is because of the potential accident hazard.

“It’s not good for wildlife to eat grain in a dumped pile,” Pennington said.

If wildlife is fed using feeders, the grain is distributed slowly and protected from elements. But if there’s a large amount of grain dropped somewhere animals become concentrated leading to a higher risk of disease since they are picking out of the same food source.

Exposure to moisture is also a concern, because if it’s left for a long amount of time at the right temperature and humidity level, it can increase harmful chemicals. However, Pennington said grain left in the open does not last long where feral hogs are present.

Erin Hatfield, the communications director for the Department of Environmental Quality, said the department treats grain dumping like any other form of dumping. If people are caught and reported to the department, fines are based on the amount dumped. Hatfield said the fine can be waived depending on the situation, like if the mess is cleaned or if it's unintentional.

Anna Pope is a reporter covering agriculture and rural issues at KOSU as a corps member with Report for America.
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