James Hill, land agent and associate at Arnolds Keys – Irelands Agricultural, explores how to prevent harvest fires.

As harvest approaches, the threat of farm fires should be on everyone’s mind. In 2021, the last full year for which statistics are available, the cost to agriculture of farm fires was £95.6 million, according to NFU Mutual. It seems inevitable that 2022, one of the hottest and driest years on record, will have seen a significant increase.

Eastern Daily Press: James Hill, land agent and associate at Arnolds Keys - Irelands AgriculturalJames Hill, land agent and associate at Arnolds Keys - Irelands Agricultural (Image: Arnolds Keys)

Due to climate change, dry conditions are becoming the norm. Rainfall over the winter was 17pc below average, with just 55pc of expected rainfall coming in May. The risk of fire is dramatically increased when conditions meet the ‘Three Thirties’ – when temperature is above 30°C, humidity below 30pc and wind speed over 30km/h.

Combine or baler fires are caused by a combination of striking flints, dust, overheating, electrical faults and fuel, while discarded items such as bottles or cigarette ends can also cause farm fires. 

To reduce the risk of stack fires, locate them away from public highways, even though it is often inconvenient to do so. Scrupulous cleaning and regular maintenance routines for combines and other equipment must remain in place to minimise the risk of debris catching alight within the machinery.

Other tips to prevent harvest fires include fitting a fire suppression system to the combine; using a mobile compressor to regularly blow away debris from the machine; and always stopping to investigate hot-running engines or bearings. Other sensible precautions include knowing where local water supplies are situated; having a fire extinguisher on-board combines and tractors and even a bowser filled with water on hand; and the old standby of a cultivator on a tractor to create fire breaks.

Farmers may want to consider delaying harvest if cooler conditions are forecast, although everyone appreciates the need for combining crops at the optimum time to maximise yield and quality.

Should the worst happen, helping the Fire Brigade respond quickly is vital. Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service recommends using the What3Words app to direct fire fighters to specific field gateways and accessible farm tracks to tackle any fire. Before harvest, it would be a good idea for all those involved on the farm to list the What3Words ID of all such locations in case of an emergency.

Fire can be devastating – 40pc businesses which suffer a serious fire never trade again. We can never entirely eliminate the risk of fire, but taking sensible measures to minimise that risk will hopefully ensure a safe and successful harvest.

For more information, visit arnoldskeys.com