South Australian grower Ben Wundersitz is employing the principles of planning, prevention and being proactive in his effort to reduce his risk of harvester fires.
He owns and manages 'Anna Binna' on the central Yorke Peninsula in SA. The operation comprises 6000 hectares across nine properties in the region.
Ben has made considerable investment in firefighting and prevention technology, and recently installed weather stations on his property to assist in making informed harvesting decisions based on the Grassland Fire Danger Index (GFDI) conditions.
He features in a GRDC video 'Reducing the risk of harvester fires' that outlines some of the strategies he is adopting.
Managing rotation risks
Lentils have been grown on 'Anna Binna' for 25 years and Ben says there has been a lot of trial and error during that period.
However, they have been fortunate enough to avoid a major fire, which Ben attributes to formulating a plan with his employees and adhering to it over harvest.
"Lentils are very profitable and an important part of our rotation," Ben says.
"We have learnt to recognise the conditions when we need to increase our vigilance in terms of fire safety and we have procedures around cleaning down machines and monitoring fire danger to manage this risk."
Ben says they have recently partnered with neighbours for the installation of four new weather stations across their properties to provide live monitoring of weather conditions during harvest.
"This is the next level of technology which gives a higher level of compliance," he says.
We have learnt to recognise the conditions when we need to increase our vigilance in terms of fire safety and we have procedures around cleaning down machines and monitoring fire danger to manage this risk.
"Ultimately we want to abide by and protect the Grain Harvesting Code of Practice," Ben says.
"Now we have access to that technology, it's easier for us to make informed decisions."
Machinery and paddock practices
'Anna Binna' harvesters have had their turbo manifolds and exhaust pipes covered with ceramic coating. This keeps the temperature at just over 100C, well below the ignition point of lentil dust.
All of the paddocks have a fire break sprayed around the edge, and at the start of each new paddock the 'Anna Binna' headers do three laps around the edge, creating a 50-metre low-fuel-load buffer.
They then harvest across the wind with reaped paddocks on the downwind side. They run two chaser bin units, each fitted with 1000 litres of water storage and pumps, as well as two firefighting trucks.
A diesel-powered air compressor is mounted on the harvester comb trailers, which is used to blow off the headers as regularly as every hour in some lentil crops, with a focus on the engine bay.
Both headers have also been modified and fitted with engine shields to increase the airflow over the turbo and manifold.
Fire knockout bombs are zip-tied around the engine bay, which explode with a white foam if they are ignited. Headers are also fitted with water and powder fire extinguishers on the ladder and the engine platform.
Preparation is key
Ben says staff are briefed to make sure everyone understands their roles and responsibilities.
"It really is important to have a plan and actually chat about what it might look like if we have an incident," he says.
"If there's a large-scale incident, we would aim to get our machinery to the edge of the paddock where there is a better likelihood of it not getting burnt out."
He says he employed this measure following the Pinery bushfire in 2015, where significant machinery losses occurred.
Additionally, Ben says the insurance for 'Anna Binna' is now being reviewed annually to protect the operation against being underinsured if there is ever a need to make a claim.
More information: Ben Wundersitz, 0418 859 046, email@example.com