THE safety of staff, family, neighbours and the local community is the overriding consideration of grain grower Ben Wundersitz as he prepares for harvest each year.
Mr Wundersitz, who owns and manages the Anna Binna farm business comprising 6000 hectares across nine properties on South Australia’s central Yorke Peninsula, injects considerable effort and resources into preparing for and minimising the risk of a potential harvester fire.
A thorough fire prevention and action plan is employed, involving briefings with staff to ensure everyone understands their roles and responsibilities prior to and during harvest.
“It really is important to have a plan with your staff and actually chat about what it might look like if we have an incident,” Mr Wundersitz said.
For more than 20 years, Anna Binna has been producing lentils – considered to be one of the more at-risk grain crops – but in that time a major fire has been avoided.
Formulate a plan
Mr Wundersitz, who has been speaking at Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) harvester fire workshops in the southern region, attributes this to formulating a plan with his employees and adhering to it over harvest.
“Lentils are very profitable and an important part of our rotation,” he said.
“We have learnt to recognise the conditions during lentil harvesting when we need to increase our vigilance in terms of fire safety and we have procedures around cleaning down machines and monitoring fire danger to manage this risk.”
Ceramic coating has previously been used to cover turbo manifolds and exhaust pipes on harvesters, which kept the temperature at just over 100 degrees Celsius, well below the ignition point of lentil dust.
All paddocks have a fire break sprayed around the edge and, at the start of harvesting each new paddock, Anna Binna’s ‘clean’ headers do three laps around the edge, creating an area of about 50 metres with a low fuel load.
The aim is to harvest into the wind so any material that may accidentally be ignited, lands on harvested ground.
Mr Wundersitz said they ran two chaser bin units, each fitted with 1000 litres of water storage and pumps, as well as two of their own firefighting trucks which were equipped with fire protection clothing and fire blankets. Only experienced operators drive the trucks.
A diesel-powered air compressor is mounted on the harvester comb trailers, which is used to blow off the headers as regularly as every hour in some lentil crops, with a focus on the engine bay.
“I encourage investment in a decent diesel compressor – you can blow off a machine in five minutes,” Mr Wundersitz said.
Fire knockout bombs are zip-tied around the engine bay, which explode with a white foam if they are ignited by fire.
Headers are also fitted with water and powder fire extinguishers on the ladder and the engine platform.
“We have a plan that if there’s a large-scale incident, we would aim to get our machinery to the edge of the paddock where there is a better likelihood of it not getting burnt out,” Mr Wundersitz said.
He said he employed this measure following the 2015 Pinery (SA) bushfire in which significant machinery losses were incurred in that region.
“When making changes to your harvester it is important to refer to your manufacturer’s warranty and seek independent advice to determine how modifications might affect this,” he said.
“Also, keep your insurance agents up to date with regards to equipment you actually have and how you have prepared to reduce risk for harvest – and of course to keep them up to date on your expected yields.”
Mr Wundersitz has made considerable investment in firefighting and prevention technology and recently installed weather stations on his property, in partnership with neighbours, to assist in making informed harvesting decisions based on the Fire Danger Index (FDI) conditions.
The stations provide live monitoring of weather conditions during harvest.
“In times gone by you might have had a small handheld weather station, but this is the next level of technology which gives a higher level of compliance,” he said.
“Ultimately we want to abide by the harvest code of practice. Now we have access to that technology, it’s easier for us to make informed decisions.”
For more information on reducing the risk of harvester fires, see GRDC’s Back Pocket Guide at https://grdc.com.au/ReducingHarvestFiresBPG.