Header fires sometimes cause significant damage to machinery and the surrounding harvest, so how can farmers protect their crops?

Header fires can have a devastating impact on your harvest season, destroying an expensive piece of machinery and potentially tearing through large areas of crop.

Kondinin Group research has revealed that approximately 7 per cent of harvesters begin fires every year, with one in every 10 incidents leading to significant damage to the header and surrounding crops.

Twelve harvesters are burned to the ground every year in Australia, according to the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC). So, what can farmers do to protect their business during the harvest season? Here are some GRDC tips to get you started:

1. Follow the Grassland Fire Danger Index (GFDI)

The four key contributing factors to header fires are relative humidity, ambient temperature, wind levels, and the condition and type of crops you are harvesting.

Refer to the GFDI on days with a high risk of fire to gauge whether or not you should continue harvesting. South Australian and Western Australian growers are legally required to cease operations once the GFDI exceeds 35, but all states and territories can benefit from following the guidelines.

2. Clean your machine

Research from Kondinin Group and the GRDC shows that the most common cause of header fires is dust and chaff build-up on key components. Material collecting on hot engine parts such as the manifold, turbocharger and exhaust is particularly dangerous.

Once embers are ignited, they can infiltrate other areas of the harvester or fall to the ground and cause spot fires. Operators must therefore be extremely diligent with machinery hygiene.

3. Take charge of your electrics

Faulty electrics regularly cause harvester fires, so avoid overloading your circuits and don’t replace blown fuses with higher amperage ones.

The GRDC advises using drag chains, drag cables and/or grounding conductors to help dissipate electrical charges. You should also fit your harvester with at least two fire extinguishers in case of emergencies.

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4. Don’t lose your bearings

You should check combine harvester bearings periodically to see whether they are at risk of failing. Brakes can also be an issue, so make sure to assess whether or not they are up to scratch on your header.

Infrared thermometers are incredibly useful for such tasks. These hand-held heat-measuring guns only cost around $50 and can help you identify problems before they arise.

5. Expect the unexpected

Even the best prepared growers face harvester fires. An errant rock flicking up onto the header can lead to a blaze, or – unbeknownst to you – vermin can chew through crucial electrical insulation.

That’s why growers should always have comprehensive farm insurance to ensure that unexpected incidents don’t crop up during the harvest season. Please contact MGA Insurance Brokers to discuss your needs.