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 might 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 crops 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 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 tray-back, 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.”
A burnt-out harvester.
Lentils are a notoriously dusty crop to harvest.