Earlier Harvest Means Farmers Must Focus on Farm Safety

With temperatures tipping over 100 degrees, the heat has dried out this year’s dryland crops pushing harvest up to possibly late August.

With harvest, come concerns about farm safety. For instance, farmers need to be aware of wearing loose clothing around belts and pulleys. Those machines operate at up to 66 feet per second and these speeds are beyond the human ability to react, not even considering the power that runs the machine and from energy in the machine. These and other hazards may be considered on a daily basis, but this year farmers need to think about the risk of a fire.

Combine Fires
As with most other farm incidents, combine fires are relatively rare single events. Given the drought across the majority of the row-crop growing region, and the forecast for similar conditions through the harvesting season, the environmental and crop conditions themselves increase the chances of combine fires.

Add in the fact newer engines operate at higher temperatures both then lead to, pardon the expression, a very combustible situation. Two particulars that can reduce the chances of conditions accumulating and causing a fire are following suggested cleaning guidelines and cleaning procedures.

General Cleaning Guidelines
The combine must be inspected periodically throughout the harvest day. Build-up of crop material and other debris must be removed to ensure proper machine function and to reduce the risk of fire. Frequency of inspections and cleanings will vary depending on a number of factors including operating conditions, machine settings, crop conditions, operating speeds and weather conditions. Inspections and cleanings may be required multiple times throughout the harvest day, particularly in dry, hot and windy conditions.

Harvesting certain crops can cause special issues. Some crops are very “sticky” and it is often more difficult to clean the machine when harvesting these crops. Examples of these crops include sunflower, canola, and safflower. Take special care in cleaning the machine when harvesting these crops.

Cleaning Tips
Always follow all safety procedures posted on the machine and in the operator’s manual.

Always shut off engine, set parking brake and remove key before carrying out any inspection or cleaning.

  • Thoroughly clean machine from top to bottom. The use of compressed air is highly recommended to ensure adequate cleaning.
  • First, clean all areas accessible from engine deck. Start with engine compartment and work outwards and counterclockwise. Focus cleaning efforts on areas that collect crop debris or which reach elevated temperatures during machine operation. Once top areas of the machine are clean, proceed to cleaning areas accessible from ground level.
  • From ground level, proceed to clean machine from top to bottom, again focusing on those areas which are prone to collecting debris or those that reach elevated temperatures during machine operation.
  • Once the cleaning from ground level is finished, recheck engine compartment for any crop debris that may have blown in from ground level cleaning.
  • Always have a fully charged fire extinguisher in the cab.

By using the usual suggestions for pre-harvest preparation and regular and thorough service and maintenance as well as the cleaning guidelines and the cleaning procedures above, you will go a long way toward avoiding a combine fire that could have occurred.

Chip Petrea, Ph.D.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering

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