Industry bodies and fire authorities are encouraging grain growers to know the details of their voluntary harvest code of practice to ensure fire safety across South Australia and Victoria.
Paddock activities involving harvester operation and vehicles and machinery used for handling and transporting grain - such as dryers and augers - are highlighted as fire danger risks in the grain harvesting codes.
GRDC has produced a comprehensive Back Pocket Guide called 'Reducing harvest fires' that contains practical advice about lowering risks.
Voluntary and practical
South Australia's Grain Harvesting Code of Practice and Victoria's Voluntary Grain Harvesting Guide exist as voluntary codes advocated by the Country Fire Service (CFS) and Grain Producers SA (GPSA) in South Australia and the Victorian Farmers' Federation (VFF) and Country Fire Authority (CFA) in Victoria.
The codes include a number of required practices for growers, as well as recommended practices which can be employed to reduce the risk of fire.
Both sets of guidelines use the MK4 Grassland Fire Danger Index (GFDI) adapted for grain growing.
This is the mathematical relationship between air temperature, relative humidity and wind speed and impacted by the curing factor, or greenness, of vegetation.
It means a fire in conditions where the GFDI is 35 or above is unlikely to be controlled by a grower's own firefighting resources.
Representatives from the endorsing bodies, including GPSA policy officer Shane Gale and VFF grains manager Alister Boyd, presented on the topic of fire risk management and their relevant codes of practice in a series of GRDC 'Harvester Fire Workshops' held across South Australia and Victoria in October last year.
Mr Gale says the code, combined with communication between growers in each district, is working well in South Australia.
"With growers following the code as best practice, the CFS has advised that we are seeing a reduction in harvester fires, while still enabling harvesting to take place even on days of total fire ban," he says.
"It allows growers to consider local weather conditions to make sound decisions for when they should cease harvesting."
Mr Gale says GPSA's role is to encourage adoption and educate the industry on the code.
"The GPSA website is a great resource for growers to learn more about the code," he says.
Know the conditions
"Many growers are investing in technology to measure relative humidity, wind speed and wind direction to further reduce risks, increase efficiency and record conditions," Mr Gale says.
"It is beneficial for growers to work with their neighbours to manage fire risk, and GPSA certainly encourages collective decisions about when to cease harvesting."
Similarly, Mr Boyd says the Voluntary Grain Harvesting Guide in Victoria is giving growers the knowledge and power to assess their own fire danger risk and exercise caution regardless of their district's fire ban status.
"Conditions on a farm can be different only a few kilometres apart depending on the lay of the land," he says.
"The Voluntary Grain Harvesting Guide is a mechanism for our industry to self-regulate harvest practices.
"This is very valuable as it does mean we're preventing potential disasters while also ensuring we're adhering to legislation and potentially insurance risk mitigation requirements."
Awareness is key
Mr Boyd says grower awareness of fire risk management and what measures can be taken to reduce the incidence of fires not just at harvest, but year-round, has increased remarkably since the VFF brought in the voluntary code in 2014.
As a part of the GPSA's 'Know Your Code' campaign, the following on-farm actions to reduce fire risk are recommended:
- monitor weather conditions and forecasts to stop harvest when the local actual GFDI exceeds 35;
- remove crop residues on machines;
- regularly maintain machinery before and during harvest, particularly wearing parts and bearings, and keep records;
- reduce build-up of static electricity on machinery during harvest;
- have a well-maintained farm fire-fighting unit with a minimum of 250 litres of water in the same paddock;
- establish fire breaks around paddocks or across the property;
- ensure all farm staff are bushfire ready with the correct fire-fighting clothing and equipment and that there is a fire prevention and emergency response strategy in place; and
- have immediate access to a UHF CB radio or mobile phone to report emergencies.