Managing your fire risks this harvesting season

Managing your fire risks this harvesting season

Every year, harvesting activity starts fires that damage property, crops and lives and with strong El Nino climatic conditions returning to Australia’s southern cropping region this year, there is an expectation that this may lead to increased harvester fires.
Fires during harvesting are a common risk.  A fire can start either in the crops near the harvesting activity, or inside the harvesting machinery – often while it is being operated.  Such fires can not only cause a great deal of physical damage but can also lead to a business interruption as sourcing replacement harvesters in the middle of the season can be time consuming and expensive.
 “As harvest gets into full swing, we’re becoming more aware of the forecasted long and hot fire season ahead. Two areas of concern for people on the land are haystack fires and fires caused by machinery, so it‘s very important that farmers take the time to check whether their machinery is in good working order to prevent fires. 

They should be mindful not to bale green hay or hay that isn't fully cured and when storing hay remember to ensure the integrity of their roofs to minimise leaking onto the hay.   Above all, they should have a fire plan ready just in case.”  
(CGU’s Rural Business Manager, Kent Hannam).


You can prevent harvester fires with a few simple steps, such as: 
  • Check the harvester front by inspecting under guarded areas, where dust and chaff build-up can go unnoticed. Pay attention to knife drive gearboxes and bearings as they can overheat.
  • Periodically degrease hydraulic motors as oil can attract dust and create a flammable mixture that is difficult to remove.
  • Perform regular blowdowns, with a blowdown every half hour or every field bin round in extreme conditions. Use a large air compressor for blowing down the machine, starting at the top. When cleaning the harvester, open the appropriate panels but leave the engine cover closed. When clean, repeat the process with the engine cover open to avoid blowing excess dust into the enclosure. With the top of the harvester blown down, work around the machine, opening all panels and blowing out.
  • Keep exhaust pipes and mufflers clean and free of chaff. When modifying exhaust pipes and mufflers, avoid creating additional entrapment points. If the engine fan is directed over the exhaust, ensure air flow is sufficient to keep it clean.
  • Use heat-resistant paints on exhaust manifolds and turbo chargers to create a more slippery surface, which will prevent dust from settling on hot parts and assist with cleaning from the engine fans.
  • Keep at least two fire extinguishers accessible on each of your harvesting machines. Familiarise all operators/employees with procedures for extinguisher use.
  • No overloading electrical circuits eg by replacing fuses with a higher than the original.
  • Postponing work in paddocks during high fire-risk periods, which typically see low humidity, high winds and vulnerable crop conditions.
  • Maintain two way radio or mobile phone communication with base and/or casher bin drivers.CGU provides crop insurance against the risk of hail and fire.  We also provide cover for equipment used throughout the harvesting process. 
  • Make sure your farm property is adequately insured and contact your insurance advisor whenever you purchase new machinery or equipment to include it under your policy. This can help you get back up and running as quickly as possible and minimise the disruption to your business.


For further information on how to manage your fire risk, we recommend contacting your local fire authority.  Note that restrictions on harvesting during a fire ban differ from state to state.

The Grains Research and Development Corporation publish a very useful back Pocket Guide to reducing Harvester Fire Risk and it is recommended that all farmers using a Harvester obtain a copy.  Please see:

About CGU

CGU is Australia’s largest regional and rural insurer, offering a range of specialist farm insurance products. We have the expertise to tailor insurance packages for all customers – from hobby farmers and graziers to small and large regional businesses.  Our customisable farm insurance provides a range of different insurance types all under one policy – making it easy to insure your farm operation with one policy.