Plan ahead to prevent harvest fires

Author: Sharon Watt | Date: 12 Nov 2015

With lentil harvest in full swing, the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) Southern Panel is urging grain growers to carefully manage fire hazards while harvesting in hot and dry conditions.

The call for vigilance followed reports of harvest fires in parts of South Australia and western Victoria.

GRDC Southern Regional Panel Chair, Keith Pengilley, said header and crop damage due to fire is easily prevented if growers take a proactive approach to managing fire risk, particularly when harvesting lentils.

“Growers should check the harvester code of practice for each state, to inform them of local conditions and risks to look out for, along with undertaking regular harvester operation checks and maintenance leading up to and throughout harvest to reduce the risk of fire.”

“It’s also important to have a working and up to date firefighting unit and increased communication with neighbours whilst harvesting lentils. We recommend having a cell phone or radio on hand to report emergencies in this high risk season,” Mr Pengilley added.

A proactive approach assisted lentil grower Ben Wundersitz, to clock up 250 hours on the header without a single incident.

Mr Wundersitz, who has been growing lentils for more than 20 years on the Yorke Peninsula, said one of the most important strategies was to set up the paddock prior to harvest.

“When I enter a paddock I do three laps to clean up the edge and create a firebreak, leaving very little crop stubble. In addition, I run headers across the wind to prevent dust building up on the machinery and harvest into or with the wind so residue blows onto already harvested areas. If a smoulder does land it has very little fuel load to take hold.

“There are fire units on our pick up bins and we operate them to allow a good view of the header so any fires can be easily spotted and extinguished. If the headers are building dust we blow off as regularly as required,” he said.

Mr Wundersitz said the area sown to lentils had increased each year and he advised new growers to follow these simple practices in their first year and fit out their headers with fire prevention equipment in their second year of production.

His header manifolds, turbo and exhaust are covered with ‘Fiberfrax’ to keep temperatures around 100 degrees Celsius. He also uses ducting to increase the airflow over the engine and exploding Fire Knockout Bombs which put out a fire should one spark.

“With a proper plan, and by remaining vigilant, you minimise the risk of harvest fire significantly. Lentils are not only profitable but a valuable addition to your crop rotation,” he concluded.

Management of fire during harvest is in the best interest of all growers to prevent community complaints and industry regulation. Further information on reducing harvester fire risk is available in the GRDC booklet ‘Reducing harvester fire risk: The Back Pocket Guide’.

For Interviews

Ben Wundersitz
0418 859 046


Patrick McClelland, Porter Novelli
03 9289 9555 / 0409 499 419

Region South