‘Catastrophic’ fire conditions bring SA harvest to a halt

Neil Lyon and Liz Wells, November 20, 2019

SA farmers have parked up their harvesting equipment to avoid the risk of fire in today’s extreme conditions. (Photo: Bulla Bulla)

GRAIN growers in South Australia have suspended harvest today as the state endures strong winds and ‘catastrophic’ fire danger conditions.

Adelaide and many centres in the cropping areas are forecast to reach 42 degrees Celsius. There is a total fire ban in place across the state.

The extreme conditions have triggered the state’s harvest code of practice which calls for harvest to cease when the local Grassland Fire Danger Index (GFDI) exceeds 35.

The pause comes as harvest pace had doubled over the past week with SA’s major bulk handler, Viterra, taking in 771,174t in the week to Monday, bringing the total intake for the season to date to 1.49 million tonnes (Mt).

Grain Producers South Australia (GPSA) chairman Wade Dabinett said SA had had a harvest code of practice in place for a long time which had proved a successful way to mitigate harvest fire risk.

“It’s not the same as in Western Australia where on fire ban days there is a midnight to midnight ban on harvesting. (In WA, harvesting was banned for four days at the end of last week due to extreme conditions). In South Australia it is up to the individual to determine whether the conditions are right,” he said.

“There are ‘catastrophic’ conditions right across the state today. We are encouraging everyone to be really risk averse. On days like today farmers need to really think about having a day off.”

Mr Dabinett said there had already been fire bans in SA this season, but this was the first where the level had been raised to ‘catastrophic’.

“Under the harvest code of conduct a GFDI of 35 has been breached a number of times this year. So, farmers should be well versed on the harvest code of conduct and what conditions are appropriate for harvest. Today is not an appropriate day for harvest, along with a lot of other activities on farms. It is a day to be vigilant no matter what type of farm you are,” he said.

Mr Dabinett said harvest in SA, which had been underway in all areas except the south east, had been a mixed bag.

“The low to medium rainfall areas are having a really tough year. The high rainfall areas are going to have quite a profitable year,” he said.

“Even though some got less rain than last year, some got more, the big factor has been the greater instances of frost which have taken the shine off things. It is hard to determine where this year lands.”

Conditions in SA are expected to ease late tomorrow as a cool change moves into the state late in the day.

Delivering grain at Viterra’s Gladstone site in South Australia’s Mid North. Photo: Viterra

The past week of frantic harvest activity in SA saw Viterra take in grain receivals at 57 sites, seven of which took their first receivals.

Thursday and Friday were the Viterra network’s busiest days, and each saw more than 130,000t of grain delivered.

Viterra Central region operations manager Jack Tansley said favourable harvest weather saw some northern sites within the region start to receive more wheat than barley as harvest of the earlier cereals came to an end.

“Barley continues to dominate deliveries at sites in the south of the region, where harvest is just getting started, while the northern sites, who are further into harvest, are swinging from barley to wheat deliveries,” Mr Tansley said.

Viterra Western region operations manager Nick Pratt said receivals on the Lower Eyre Peninsula had increased, with the upgraded Port Lincoln site having its busiest day so far this harvest on Sunday.

Week to 17 November 2019/20 harvest to 17 November
Western region 320,088 734,807
Central region 397,573 694,246
Eastern region 53,513 63,945
Total tonnes 771,174 1,492,998

Viterra Eastern region operations manager Jo Klitscher said new segregations, based on quality and grower feedback, had opened as grain deliveries ramped up.

“Across the region, the quality of barley is looking good and growers are really happy with what is being produced,” Ms Klitscher said.

“We’ve opened additional malt segregations at some sites in response to this.

“Last week, Tailem Bend received a load of beans for the first time after the segregation was opened there this harvest.”

Harvest has just kicked off in western Victoria. Last Tuesday Viterra’s Dooen site received its first load for the harvest, barley from an early sown crop.


South Australian Grain Harvesting Code of Practice:

  • Stop harvest when the local actual (not forecast) Grassland Fire Danger Index exceeds 35.
  • Before harvest, establish a minimum 4-metre fire break around the boundary of crops or paddocks to be reaped.
  • Keep crop residues on machines to a minimum, particularly engines, exhausts or brakes.
  • Regularly maintain machinery before and during harvest, particularly wearing parts and bearing.
  • Carry the prescribed equipment – such as water, extinguisher and a shovel – and have immediate access to a UHF CB radio or mobile phone.
  • Keep a farm fire fighting unit in the paddock being harvested.




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