Growers focused on reducing harvester fire risk
The Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) and fire safety experts are supporting grain growers in the southern cropping region in their efforts to minimise the risk of harvester fires.
Kondinin Group research reveals 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.
But experts say those figures can be reduced with improved harvester hygiene, maintenance and potentially with exhaust system shielding treatments, particularly in more volatile crops such as lentils.
Reducing the risk of harvester fires during this year’s lentil crop harvest was the focus of four recent GRDC technical workshops in Victoria and South Australia.
GRDC Southern Manager Grower Services, Craig Ruchs, says the workshops – at Swan Hill and Warracknabeal in Victoria and Crystal Brook and Cleve in South Australia – were designed especially for new lentil growers or those with limited prior experience with lentil harvesting operations.
“Harvester fires have become an issue of increasing concern in the southern cropping region in recent years, particularly when harvesting lentil crops,” Mr Ruchs said.
“With lentil production moving into areas where these pulse crops have previously not been common, the GRDC Southern Regional Panel recognised that it was important for all growers to be equipped with the latest expert advice and resources to reduce the risk of fires caused by machinery this harvest.
“Although the workshops were targeted at new lentil growers, much of the information delivered applies to all growers and machinery operators – regardless of the crops being harvested and levels of harvest experience.
“Machinery failure is in many cases responsible for fires starting so it is critical that all growers undertake scheduled harvester operation checks and regular maintenance leading up to and throughout harvest in an effort to reduce the risk of fire.”
Kondinin Group engineer Ben White, who has reported to the GRDC on harvester fires and presented at the recent workshops, says many pre-harvest preventative maintenance checks tie into what growers already do on a regular basis, such as checking belts, hoses and wiring for damage.
“Growers should also be regularly monitoring bearing operation temperatures with an infra-red thermometer to detect rapid increases in temperature, indicating imminent failure,” Mr White said. “Oil seals should also be inspected. A dripping line or weeping seal needs to be repaired prior to harvest, otherwise that could become a fire hazard.”
According to Mr White, some growers use exhaust insulation blankets (such as those used in the mining and racing car industries), alumina-silica materials on exhausts and turbo chargers to reduce fire risk. He said this was an effective 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 by conducting regular clean-outs during harvest 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 machine-mounted fire suppression options on the market have come down in price and encouraged growers to consider having a fire suppression system fitted.
Growers are reminded 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.
Almost 200 growers, advisers and industry representatives attended the recent GRDC workshops, where they received practical information enabling them to make immediate harvester modifications to reduce heat load. Advice delivered also assisted with development of improved harvest fire management plans.
“All growers went away with a better understanding of the potential risks and level of care required when harvesting highly flammable crops,” Mr Ruchs said.
“More than 90 percent of the participants surveyed indicated that based on learnings from the workshops, they would be implementing new strategies to improve their harvester fire management plan.
“Many growers stated they will now conduct blow downs more frequently to maintain a clean header, test existing fire equipment and ensure regular maintenance, and will install extra fire units, including those mounted on chaser bins and support vehicles.
“If the workshops prevented even one single fire, then that is a fantastic outcome. And for those growers keen to improve their fire prevention strategies but unable to attend the workshops, I strongly recommend they access the GRDC’s Reducing Harvester Fire Risk Back Pocket Guide,” Mr Ruchs said.
The guide serves as a summary of fire prevention and minimisation methods for Australian operators and includes a handy Harvester Fire Reduction Checklist.
Ben White, Kondinin Group
Craig Ruchs, GRDC
Sharon Watt, Porter Novelli