Missouri farmers are getting a fast start to the harvest season this year. However, they may want to slow down and check equipment.
“Cleanliness is key during a dusty harvest season,” says Kent Shannon, University of Missouri Extension natural resource engineering specialist. “We need to make sure that equipment has been cleaned and inspected before heading to the fields.”
Shannon fears that if the warm, dry conditions of early August continue, there is a greater risk for agriculture fires. “It can impact both crops and machinery and cause millions of dollars in losses.”
• Dry harvest conditions can lead to a greater fire risk.
• Clean and check equipment before heading to the field.
• Carry fire extinguishers on all vehicles in case of fire.
There are three parts to any fire — fuel, oxygen and ignition — and all can be found in a farm field.
While husks, leaves and dust are common aspects of any harvest, they are also a prime fuel source. Mark Wieland, a manager for Sydenstrickers, Tipton, says that chaff buildup can really occur in and around compartments on combines. Adding an ignition source like a hot engine to the chaff only raises the risk of fire.
“The key is to keep areas clean,” he says. “Blow off the combine. In these harvest conditions, it may mean blowing off the machine more than one time, possibly multiple times a day; it all depends on the amount of chaff from a field.”
Combines aren’t the only ag fire risk. Shannon says that even trucks can spark a field fire.
Catalytic converters on the underside of vehicles can easily serve as an ignition source, he explains. “Check out your trucks,” he says. “And then keep an eye on those entering your fields.”
It doesn’t take long before a small spark not only ignites a truck fire, but also a fire that spreads to the entire field. “The damage can be extensive and cost the farmer hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Shannon adds.
Farmers can inspect key areas to help prevent fires.
Shannon says to inspect electrical systems and replace any bad wires or faulty wiring. Using heat-resistant insulation on wires provides an extra layer of fire protection. Wieland recommends growers regularly check fuel systems. Visually inspecting lines can identify possible leaks. Farmers should also make sure all connections are tight.
Both men advise that while the eye cannot see problems with wheel bearings, this area is a prime fire ignition source.
“If a bearing is going out, it needs to be replaced as soon as possible,” Wieland adds.
Every farmer should keep at least one fully charged 10-pound ABC fire extinguisher on equipment. Shannon takes it one step further.
“Farmers should have a 10-pound extinguisher in the cab and a 20-pound extinguisher somewhere that is reachable from the ground.”
Wieland adds that newer combines are equipped with two.
If a fire does occur, both men say to call 911 first if there is a cellphone present. Then farmers can try to put out the fire with the extinguishers.
“Be safe,” Wieland adds.
“Safety should be the first concern for all farm operations, no matter the harvest conditions.”
BLOW it OUT: Mark Wieland, a manager for Sydenstrickers, Tipton, points to areas of the combine that need to be dusted off before heading to the field this harvest season.
This article published in the September, 2012 edition of MISSOURI RURALIST.