Industry unites to minimise header fires

Insurance, machinery and production sectors working together to prevent combine harvester fires


Grain
Farmers harvesting lentils have had issues with harvester fires in recent years.

Farmers harvesting lentils have had issues with harvester fires in recent years.

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There has been a worrying increase in the incidence of harvester fires in recent years. What is the grains sector doing to stop the blazes?

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ALL SEGMENTS of the grains industry are uniting to try and minimise the increasing problem of harvester fires.

After a difficult 2016-17 season which saw scores of harvesters burn to the ground throughout the course of harvest, Grain Producers Australia chairman Andrew Weidemann said the industry wanted to lower the risk of fires occurring.

“We’ve got everyone together, the farmers, the insurance industry and the machinery manufacturers, it is in everyone’s interest to stop the fires,” Mr Weidemann said.

He said the interest in the topic was reflected with a recent workshop held at Longerenong in Victoria’s Wimmera region, attended by over 100 people.

Mr Weidemann’s comments were backed up by Dale Russell, of Victoria’s Country Fire Authority (CFA), who presented at the workshop.

Mr Russell said crop fires, generally started by a harvester fire, had risen in Victoria from generally less than 40 a season up to 70 last season.

“The workshop demonstrated new tools and techniques to minimise fires and also featured speakers from the machinery and insurance sectors,” Mr Weidemann said.

He said the success of the day meant GPA would look to host similar events in the future in other parts of the country.

“An event in the northern NSW / southern Queensland catchment would be a logical next step, they grow a lot of chickpeas in that region and we have seen a lot of problems with fires in pulse crops.”

At a practical level, Mr Weidemann said farmers were looking to see means to stop hot manifolds coming in contact with combustible dust.

Pulse dust is especially susceptible to catching alight.

“Part of the reason we are seeing so many fires is that there are so many more hectares of pulses grown,” Mr Weidemann said.

The CFA statistics confirmed this, with a 20pc rise in the instances of fires in lentil crops, the major pulse crop grown in Victoria.

He said farmers were looking to see innovation to reduce heat in the manifold, along with designs that minimised the amount of dust that could build up.

“We’re lobbying the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) and harvester manufacturers to do more research on coming up with ways of minimising header fires,” he said.

Operating hours may also play a role. Mr Russell said the majority of fires occurred between the hours of 1pm and 6pm.

Mr Weidemann said there are already useful concepts hitting the market.

“A fire suppression unit, exhibited by local farm machinery company O’Connors, was well accepted by participants,” he said.

In terms of fire prevention he said a new air system on display also won support from the crowd.

“The air system can assist with keeping headers clean whilst harvesting, reducing the fuel load build up on the header,” he said.

In terms of planning, Mr Weidemann said insurance agents had signalled they will treat the risk of header fires differently.

“They will work with industry to potentially reduce premiums, based around farmers investing in technology to reduce risks associated with harvesting,” he said.

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