Grain growers in the southern cropping region are reminded to implement strategies and take precautions to reduce the risk of fires caused by machinery this harvest.
A spate of harvester fires in recent years, combined with a dry, early finish to the 2015 cropping season, has heightened concerns about the potential fire risk this year.
The Grains Research and Development Corporation’s Southern Regional Panel is urging growers and harvester operators to follow current industry best practice guidelines.
Southern Regional Panel chair Keith Pengilley says the Panel is concerned about the higher-than-average number of fires that have occurred during harvest in South Australia and to a lesser extent Victoria over the past few years.
“A number of these fires have started in pulse crops, particularly lentils, so extra precautions should be taken when preparing to harvest these crops,” Mr Pengilley said.
“However, machinery failure is in many cases responsible for fires starting so it is critical that growers undertake harvester operation checks and regular maintenance leading up to and throughout harvest in an effort to reduce the risk of fire.”
Kondinin Group research has revealed that on average, about seven per cent of harvesters per year will start a fire. In these cases, one in 10 will cause significant damage to the machine or surrounding crop.
Reports indicate, based on operator experience, that harvester fires may be reduced with improved harvester hygiene, maintenance and exhaust system shielding treatments, particularly in volatile crops.
“The best method of fire prevention for harvesters has been harvester hygiene, regular maintenance and vigilance,” says Kondinin’s Ben White who has reported to the GRDC on harvester fires.
”And many pre-harvest preventative checks tie into what growers already do on a regular harvester maintenance basis, such as checking belts and bearings for damage.
“Growers should also be checking for any electrical issues before harvest, such as making sure wiring isn’t rubbing on anything or if there are any exposed electrics which need to be insulated.
“Oil seals should be inspected. A dripping line or weeping seal needs to be repaired prior to harvest, otherwise that could become a fire hazard,” Mr White said.
According to Mr White, some growers use materials such as exhaust insulation blankets, alumina-silica materials on exhausts and turbo chargers to reduce fire risk. He said this was a good way of reducing fire ignition sources, but growers needed to be careful with the impact such insulators could have on engine and turbo operation temperatures and any warranty implications.
Mr White emphasised the importance of harvester hygiene during harvest by conducting regular clean-outs and said growers should be exercising particular caution when harvesting leafy pulse crops, as these were renowned for dust build-up.
He also stressed the importance of having properly functioning fire extinguishers on harvesters and noted that there are some machine-mounted fire suppression options on the market.
Growers are encouraged to abide by state-based grain harvesting codes of practice and declared harvest bans, and observe the Grassland Fire Danger Index (GFDI) protocol on high fire risk days.
To assist growers with their fire prevention strategies, the GRDC has published a Reducing Harvester Fire Risk Back Pocket Guide.
The guide, produced for the GRDC by Mr White and Dr Graeme Quick, serves as a summary of fire prevention and minimisation methods for Australian operators and includes a useful Harvester Fire Reduction Checklist on page 4.
GRDC Southern Panel