Rural Fire Service can cease harvest alerts, farmers to assess fire risk on-farm

HOT AND DRY: Risk is always high due to the amount of moving parts, age and maintenance of many harvesters. Photo: Kieren L. Tilly
HOT AND DRY: Risk is always high due to the amount of moving parts, age and maintenance of many harvesters. Photo: Kieren L. Tilly

As the state braces for a horror fire season, the Rural Fire Service have announced major changes to fire risk management during harvest.

The RFS will no longer issue cease harvest alerts, with farmers to make the call on whether to stop harvesting themselves, with the aid of a guide. 

Bradley Stewart, operational officer from the Riverina RFS said the new voluntary grain harvesting system “puts the power in farmers’ hands.” 

“Previously we issued a cease harvesting alert but it may have been safe to continue based on the weather in the district, this can lead to huge losses,” Mr Stewart said. 

“One hour of a harvester sitting idle is a potential loss of $15000 in income. 

‘We’ve listened, heard, consulted and developed the new system with NSW Farmers, harvesters and industry.” 

Last year across the state 40 harvesters caught on fire, causing $30 million in damage. 

The new management system is a three step process, requiring harvesters to measure temperature, humidity and wind speed on their property, check this data against a chart to determine the maximum wind speed safe for harvesting, and cease if equal or greater. 

A ‘harvest safety alert’ will be issued if the Grassfire Danger Index is above 35, prompting growers to check the chart. 

Ben Moloney, a grain grower from Junee said there were a few bans while harvesting canola last year, which isn’t as dangerous. 

“It can be frustrating,” he said. 

He said his family have been self-managing fire risk during harvest for some time. 

“We’ve pulled up anyway, even if they hadn’t called it. You know your own paddock,” Mr Moloney said. 

Bill Muller, a farmer from Illabo said weather conditions are often vastly different from one side of the shire to the other. 

“It makes sense, as long as people don’t abuse it,” he said. 

“Next door pulled up a few times last year when the wind was blowing towards me, I was grateful.”

Farmers are legally responsible for any fires started on their properties. 

The RFS and Fire Rescue will hold a stall at the upcoming Henty Field Days to address questions from grain producers on the change.