Farmers urged to protect combines from fires this harvest

Farmers and agricultural contractors have been warned to take extra measures before this year’s harvest to protect their farms against devastating fires.   

NFU Mutual urges farmers to take extra prevention measures before this year’s harvest to protect their farms against devastating fires.   

In 2022 and 2023, more than 90% of combine harvester fire claims were reported to NFU Mutual in July and August.  

The rural insurer is now urging farmers to take all possible steps to reduce the risk of fire in their combines, balers and tractors.   

It is also calling for legislation that requires manufacturers to install fire suppression systems as standard on agricultural vehicles, so this is no longer a burden placed on farmers. 

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Higher risk during hot dry summer

Hannah Binns, NFU Mutual rural affairs specialist, said: “Combine fires can quickly spread through growing crops to engulf neighbouring fields and properties – so this is a matter of protecting human and animal lives as well as the cost of replacing damaged machinery.  

“Fires can spread at frightening speeds, and modern combines are such large complex machines that one component overheating or wiring short-circuiting can lead to a huge fire. The risk of fire spreading is much higher in hot dry summers – but fires also break out and destroy expensive combines in cooler, damper weather.  

“Keeping people safe must always be the first priority, and we urge farmers and their staff to only tackle a machinery fire if it is small and they can do so without putting themselves at risk.  

“Finding a replacement combine or an agricultural contractor with spare capacity during harvest can also be tricky, subsequently impacting the business.  

“Fitting a fire suppression system could help reduce the chances of combines catching fire, helping farmers avoid the challenge of getting harvest finished with no combine.  

“In the long term, we would like to see regulation requiring manufacturers to install fire suppression systems as standard on agricultural vehicles to protect farmers’ safety and food security.” 

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Reducing the risk 

Craig Codling from NFU Mutual’s agricultural engineering team added that carrying out regular maintenance on schedule and cleaning chaff and dust from machines regularly reduces the risk of a combine fire.  

“However, even the best maintained combines can catch fire if a bearing overheats, a fuel pipe breaks, or an electrical component short-circuits.   

“We have tested combine fire suppressant systems and have found that they significantly reduce the risk of serious fire.   

“To help farmers protect their combines, we’re increasing the premium discount we offer for machines fitted with an approved suppressor system from 15 to 25%.  

This offer will remain in place through harvest until September. We urge any farmers interested in this discount to get in touch with their local NFU Mutual agent,” he concluded. 

Agricultural vehicle insurance discount 

NFU Mutual’s temporary increased discount of up to 25% from the agricultural vehicle insurance premium is available to those insured by NFU Mutual who fit and correctly maintain fire suppressant systems that meet the following accreditations: Special Certification Rule 199 (SPCR199); Australian Standard (AS 5062-2016); Factory Mutual (FM 5970).  

Combine harvester fire suppression systems work by rapidly detecting the first signs of a fire and releasing a suppressant that quickly extinguishes the fire, reducing the risk to operators and surrounding areas.  

The offer is available from 1st June to 1st September 2024. After that date, a 15% discount will continue to be available.  

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Harvest fire prevention guide 

NFU Mutual has issued a harvest fire prevention guide with useful tips for farmers and agricultural contractors: 

  • Regularly clean out dust and chaff from hot spots in combines and balers while in use and twice a day in very dry conditions. 
  • Fit a fire suppression system that meets P-mark status to contain, extinguish and prevent fires. 
  • Switch off engines and ensure moving parts have stopped before clearing blockages or carrying out maintenance. 
  • Always stop to investigate hot-running engines or bearings. 
  • Have a plan in place to raise alarms, check team safety and direct emergency services to the fire site. 
  • Keep mobile phones on you at all times, do not left in a tractor or pickup cab.
  • Make sure drivers are aware of the locations and heights of power lines and check that machinery will safely pass under wires.
  • Ensure that all fire extinguishers installed on a combine harvester are inspected, serviced and maintained per the approved manual from the suppression system manufacturer. 
  • Ensure the design, installation, operation, inspection or maintenance of the fire suppression system is only undertaken by trained personnel that hold a valid training certificate from the suppression system manufacturer.    
  • Ensure the harvest team knows where the nearest water source is. 
  • Use the what3words app to help direct emergency services to the site of fires. 
  • Clean dust regularly from grain dryers – and ensure that all staff are fully trained and know what to do if fire breaks out .
  • Fully service harvesting machinery before starting work.
  • Keep cultivators on hand to put in fire breaks in the event of a crop fire. 
  • Keep water bowsers filled and near harvesting operations available to tackle spot fires ensure. If possible, harvest crops so that the wind would carry any potential fire in the direction of already cut crop.
  • Take care when using air compressors to clean chaff to avoid the risk from injecting air into the skin and causing bubbles in the blood stream by wearing PPE and reducing air pressure below 30psi/2.1 bar. 
  • Check the Fire Severity Index to help avoid harvesting in peak temperatures.

Read more about farm safety.

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