Farmers reminded to protect combines from fires this harvest

The risk of fire spreading is much higher in hot dry summers (Photo: NFU Mutual)
The risk of fire spreading is much higher in hot dry summers (Photo: NFU Mutual)

Farmers and agricultural contractors are being reminded to take extra prevention measures before this year’s harvest to prevent devastating farm fires.

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

With this year’s harvest season approaching, farmers are being reminded to take all possible steps to reduce the risk of fire in their combines, balers and tractors.

Calls are also being been made 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.

Hannah Binns, NFU Mutual rural affairs specialist, said: “Combine fires can quickly spread through growing crops to engulf neighbouring fields and properties.

“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."

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.

And carrying out regular maintenance on schedule and cleaning chaff and dust from machines regularly reduces the risk of a combine fire.

Craig Codling from NFU Mutual’s agricultural engineering team, said that 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," he said.

To help farmers protect their combines, NFU Mutual is increasing the premium discount it offers for machines fitted with an approved suppressor system from 15 to 25%.

This offer will remain in place through harvest until September.

How can I prevent harvest fires?

NFU Mutual has also provided tips for farmers to help prevent a combine fire during this year’s harvest:

• Ensure planned preventative maintenance is up to date and in accordance with manufacturers’’ service schedules before using any machinery

• Fit a suppression system that meets P-mark status to contain, extinguish and prevent fire

• Regularly clean out dust and chaff from hot spots and check the machine over when you finish use for the day

• You can use a mobile compressor (or a fixed one if fitted to the combine) to regularly blow away debris from the machine, but only do so if the exit pressure is reduced (as a guide 30psi/2.1 bar is effective at cleaning)

• 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 in the event of fire including a system for keeping in contact with lone workers and anyone working or living on farm

• Keep mobile phones on you at all times – it’s no use to you if it’s left in a tractor or pickup cab

• Make sure drivers are aware of the locations and heights of power lines and check that you will safely pass under wires

• Keep a fire extinguisher on the combine – and ensure it is regularly maintained

• Keep a bowser filled with water on hand, and be prepared to create a fire break in the event of a crop fire

• Use the What3Words App to help emergency services can find your location easily

• Remind staff to keep well-hydrated, take sufficient rest breaks and monitor for fatigue, stress and mental ill health symptoms.