FOR YEARS haystack fires have plagued Australia's fodder industry, causing great costs and damaging infrastructure.
According to Victoria's Country Fire Authority (CFA), spontaneous ignition, often caused by moisture within the fodder, is the leading cause of haystack fires in Victoria.
But while growers and fodder processors have known that correct processing and storage of a dry product is required to minimise the risk, the in-storage monitoring of hay often amounted to little more than sticking a crow bar into the hay and seeing if it came out hot.
This could change with an innovative new research project looking at more accurate ways to understand haystack degradation.
The project, between Food Agility CRC (Cooperative Research Centre), Charles Sturt University (CSU), insurer parent group IAG and data business Myriota will review what data is most essential to understanding haystack degradation as a precursor to fires.
Throughout this project, haystacks will be individually monitored, and the data collected will be transmitted via Myriota developed satellite communication technology to a central monitoring and visualisation location.
Food Agility CRC lead scientist David Lamb said the project was critical to help farmers better drought proof their businesses.
"With more farmers 'putting feed away for a non-rainy day', farmers need to better understand haystack degradation," Prof Lamb said. "This project could significantly improve our collective knowledge regarding how the quality of baled hay changes over time and the threat of spontaneous fires."
In the project the data will be modelled to recommend sensor configuration and placement in haystacks and generate timely alerts to farmers when their haystacks are at an increased chance of combustion.
The research team will also look at how to identify the critical indicators and process this data to send alerts through Myriota's satellite communications system in a low-data environment utilising Internet of Things (IOT) technology.
This will allow for monitoring on properties that previously had low or no telecommunications coverage.
Myriota vice president of strategic partnerships Paul Sheridan said the project would be a big win for farmers and hay processors in areas with limited mobile or internet coverage.
"This project will leverage Myriota's reliable and costeffective satellite IoT technology to help farmers accurately monitor their hay health even in the most remote locations," Mr Sheridan said.
The project is jointly funded by Food Agility, CSU and IAG, while Myriota will lead the development of the communication technology.
Charles Sturt University lead researcher John Broster said helping growers be alerted when their hay was at risk would be a huge breakthrough.
Haystack fires result in the loss of that asset, and the worst part is that it is completely unexpected," Dr Broster said.
"We are aiming to change that with monitoring technology."
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