Grow­ers ad­vised to be fire-ready


Grow­ers are be­ing en­cour­aged to en­sure their on-farm fire plans are up to date, af­ter a sig­nif­i­cant in­ci­dence of har­vester fires in WA dur­ing the 2016-17 har­vest.

Ex­perts have ad­vised that grow­ers can min­imise the risks of fire at har­vest by en­sur­ing good hy­giene, in­spec­tion and main­te­nance of ma­chin­ery.

Kon­dinin Group agri­cul­tural en­gi­neer Ben White, who re­cently ad­vised the Grains Re­search and De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion on har­vester fires, said grow­ers should be es­pe­cially cau­tious when har­vest­ing pulse crops.

Mr White said lentils, along­side chick­peas, had the high­est sus­cep­ti­bil­ity to start­ing har­vester fires.

While the area in WA planted to lentils is small, it is an emerg­ing crop, with in­creased plant­ings in the Esper­ance Port Zone.

Mr White said new lentil grow­ers may be un­aware of the fire risk as­so­ci­ated with this crop.

“Re­search by the late Gra­ham Quick in­di­cates lentil crops are up to five times more fire prone than wheat dur­ing har­vest,” he said.

“The ig­ni­tion tem­per­a­ture, which is the tem­per­a­ture at which a fire will start in crop residue, varies be­tween crops and from year to year. While fur­ther re­search is needed to con­firm it, fac­tors that may in­crease the risk in­clude mould and va­ri­etal and agro­nomic in­flu­ences.”

Mr White said har­vester fires could dam­age equip­ment, de­stroy crop and in­fra­struc­ture and en­dan­ger lives.

To min­imise the risk, grow­ers needed to ad­dress the two “fire fac­tors” — fuel and ig­ni­tion — and be pre­pared in the event of a fire.

Mr White em­pha­sised the im­por­tance of har­vester hy­giene, say­ing more than a quar­ter of all har­vester fires were caused by dust, chaff and straw build up.

“Lentils are a no­to­ri­ously dusty crop to har­vest, mean­ing op­er­a­tors need to ex­er­cise ex­tra vig­i­lance when it comes to hy­giene,” he said.

“Clean down equip­ment reg­u­larly and do this even more of­ten in dusty con­di­tions. When dust is ex­treme, a clean down of ev­ery box­ful of grain may be re­quired.”

Mr White ad­vised lentil grow­ers to fol­low the lead of South Aus­tralian grow­ers, who har­vest into the wind. This meant residue and dust would blow away from crop wait­ing to be har­vested.

“This also re­duces the risk of any in­cen­di­aries be­ing car­ried into the stand­ing crop, and in­stead blows it into stub­ble, which, for lentil crops, has a very low biomass,” he said.

Mr White said static could ar­guably at­tract dust, but did not have suf­fi­cient po­ten­tial en­ergy to start a fire in dusty con­di­tions.

He said pre­ven­ta­tive main­te­nance was im­por­tant and grow­ers should pe­ri­od­i­cally check bear­ing tem­per­a­tures around the har­vester front, as well as the ma­chine gen­er­ally.

“Mon­i­tor­ing bear­ings, which can be done with an in­fra-red tem­per­a­ture gun, and log­ging them for tem­per­a­ture vari­a­tions is im­por­tant,” Mr White said.

To be pre­pared in the event of a har­vester fire, Mr White said WA grow­ers should have at least the lo­cally pre­scribed amount of water (typ­i­cally 750 litres) on site.

“It is prefer­able to have water on a tray­back, which is eas­ier to nav­i­gate and re­verse when vis­i­bil­ity is poor, but a trailer is ac­cept­able as long as it is at­tached to a ve­hi­cle at all times,” he said.

“Make sure ex­tin­guish­ers on the har­vester are in good work­ing or­der and ro­tate pow­der types reg­u­larly to pre­vent clump­ing. I sug­gest hav­ing a set of water and pow­der ex­tin­guish­ers near the cab steps and in the en­gine bay.”

Pic­ture: Ben White

Lentils are a no­to­ri­ously dusty crop to har­vest.

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