Growers share fire risk-management tips

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No expense spared on YP

Image of Ben Wundersitz

Ben Wundersitz with one of the 'Anna Binna' headers.

PHOTOS: Alistair Lawson

Ben Wundersitz, Maitland, SA

Harvesters: two New Holland CR9090

A “whatever it takes” mindset towards avoiding harvester fires has spurred considerable investment in firefighting and prevention technology for Ben Wundersitz.

Ben owns and manages ‘Anna Binna’ on the central Yorke Peninsula in South Australia, which comprises 6000 hectares across nine properties in the region.

‘Anna Binna’ has been growing lentils for 20 years and Ben says there has been a lot of trial and error over that period. However, they have been fortunate enough to avoid a major fire in that time, which Ben puts down to formulating a plan with his employees and sticking to it over harvest.

“However, we need to manage the risks associated with harvesting them or, as in industry, we risk being legislated to do so.”

Both of the property’s New Holland CR9090 harvesters have had their turbo manifolds and exhaust pipes covered in Fiberfrax®, a refractory ceramic fibre with high temperature stability. This keeps the temperature at just over 100°C, well below the flash point of lentil dust, which is 140°C. 

All of the paddocks have a fire break sprayed around the edge and at the start of each new paddock the ‘Anna Binna’ headers do three laps around the edge, creating an area of about 50 metres with a low fuel load. They then plan to harvest across the wind, with reaped paddocks on the downwind side.

They run two chaser bin units, each fitted with 1000 litres of water storage and pumps, as well as two of their own firefighting trucks.

“When they aren’t chasing, the chaser bin units sit downwind in the paddock with a good view of the headers at all times,” Ben says. “Part of our plan is if there is a smoulder, one unit will look after the paddock and the other will look after the header.”

They have a diesel-powered air compressor mounted on the comb trailer, which is used to blow off the headers as regularly as every hour in some lentil crops, with a particular focus on the engine bay.

Both headers have also been modified and fitted with shields over the engine, significantly increasing the airflow over the turbo and manifold. Fire Knockout Bombs, which explode with a white foam if they are ignited by fire, are zip-tied around the engine bay. Headers are also fitted with water and powder fire extinguishers on the ladder and the engine platform.

More information:

Ben Wundersitz,
0418 859 046,
info@annabinna.com.au,
@AnnaBinnaFarm (Twitter)

Communication the key

Richard Konzag, Mallala, SA

Harvester: Case IH 8230

Image of Richard Konzag

Richard Konzag checks the fire danger index, calculated using real-time data from a weather station on his property, on his smartphone.

Regular communication not only between staff but also with other growers in the Mallala, SA, area is a key part of the Konzag family’s header-fire prevention strategy.

Mallala Ag Bureau network of growers who regularly keep in contact during harvest via UHF radio or phone.

Should conditions become too dangerous, they reach a consensus agreement to cease harvesting until conditions abate and then when it is agreed that it is safe to resume. This is something they have been doing before the SA Country Fire Service’s grain harvesting code of practice existed.

“That builds community pressure on other growers to stop and, most of the time, we will all stop,” Richard Konzag says.

To help inform their decision, the Mallala Ag Bureau members have access to data generated from a soil-moisture probe and weather station installed on the Konzags’ farm, which uses windspeed, temperature and relative humidity to calculate the local fire danger index. Harvester hygiene is another vital factor for Richard, who has been growing lentils for 15 years.

“We have a leaf blower to blow down the header, which we do every one to five hours depending on the crop,” he says.

“Direction of travel is also very important and we always make sure we don’t have a tailwind when we’re harvesting. Sometimes we will even stop and change the direction we’re harvesting during the day.

“That sometimes contradicts our controlled-traffic farming system, but I’m a realist. It’s simply not worth the risk.”

More information:

Richard Konzag,
0417 830 406,
richard.konzag@gmail.com,

@RichardKonzag (Twitter)

Careful modifications reduce risk

Derek Tiller, Pinery, SA

Harvester: Case IH 8230

In their 20 years of growing lentils, Derek Tiller and his family have done their fair share of head scratching when it comes to the subject of avoiding a harvester fire.

“We’ve had years where there have been no issues and other years where we’ve basically had to follow the header with a water cart,” Derek says. “When we’re harvesting, we are constantly running over the header with a heat gun to monitor the temperature of different parts.”

However, the Tillers – Derek, his brother Clinton and their wives Karin and Emma, as well as his parents John and Christine – have made several modifications to their Case IH 8230 harvester, to the point where they are fairly confident of avoiding a major fire when harvesting lentils.

They have a rule of thumb when purchasing a new header and that is not to buy one that does not have a suction fan on the rotary screen – a big help in limiting dust build-up.

“We have fitted a different spreader to the back of the header that throws trash further away from the radiator, as chaff can cause a lot of issues in that part of the header,” Derek says. “We have also put in shields around the engine and a wind deflector plate over the manifold so all dust exits vertically out of the engine bay instead of building up.”

They have covered the manifold and exhaust pipe in Fiberfrax® and fitted an exhaust jacket over the exit pipe. Further modifications to the exhaust have included removing the flapper to prevent dust build-up and rerouting the exit point so it points horizontal rather than vertical.

Another key feature of the Tillers’ fire-prevention arsenal is a remotely operated firefighter on the chaser bin. A 400L tank has been mounted to the bin’s chassis, which is connected to a pump and mounted hose activated by a remote control in the chaser bin tractor. That way, the operator can drive up to and circle a small fire while squirting water from the mounted hose without having to exit the cab.

Other measures have included having a tractor hooked up to an offset disc plough on standby so it is easy to make a firebreak if needed.

“There is only so much you can do to stop a fire from starting,” Derek says. “Communication between staff members and other growers in the district is vital so that if a fire does start, there is a plan in place and we can help each other out.”

Image of Derek Tiller

Derek Tiller with the exhaust jacket fitted to his family’s Case header.

More information:

Derek Tiller,
0438 272 100,
derek.pgg@gmail.com,

@derekctiller (Twitter)

Useful resources:

Reducing harvester fire risk: The Back Pocket Guide

Reducing the risk of harvester fires – video

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