Farmers warned of combine fire risk ahead of harvest

Farmers are being urged to take preventative measures to minimise the risk of farm fires this summer, as the busy harvest season approaches.

The warning comes from rural insurer NFU Mutual, which revealed that in 2022 and 2023, more than 90% of combine harvester fires were reported in July and August.

See also: #YourHarvest campaign shows British arable farmers’ value

The insurer has reminded farmers to take all possible steps to reduce the risk of fire in their combines, balers and tractors.

This includes regularly maintaining machines and, where possible, fitting fire suppression systems.

It is also calling for legislation to require manufacturers to install fire suppression systems as standard on agricultural vehicles, so that the burden is no longer placed on farmers.

Craig Codling, from NFU Mutual’s agricultural engineering team said: “Carrying out regular maintenance on schedule and cleaning chaff and dust from machines regularly reduces the risk of a combine fire. 

“However, 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. 

NFU Mutual harvest fire prevention guide 

The NFU Mutual has issued the following advice to farmers ahead of the harvest season to lessen the risk of machinery and farm fires.

  • Regularly clean out dust and chaff from hot spots in combines and balers. This should be done twice a day in very dry conditions. 
  • Fit a fire suppression system that meets P-mark status to contain, extinguish and prevent fires. 
  • 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 to raise alarms, check team safety and direct emergency services to the fire site.  
  • Keep mobile phones on you at all times – not left in a tractor or pickup cab  
  • Make sure drivers are aware of the locations and heights of power lines and check that machinery will safely pass under wires.  
  • Ensure all fire extinguishers installed on a combine harvester are inspected, serviced and maintained per the approved manual from the suppression system manufacturer. 
  • Ensure the design, installation, operation, inspection or maintenance of the fire suppression system is only undertaken by trained personnel with a valid training certificate from the suppression system manufacturer.   
  • Ensure the harvest team knows where the nearest water source is.  
  • Use the what3words app to help direct emergency services to the site of fires. 
  • Clean dust regularly from grain dryers – and ensure that all staff are fully trained and know what to do if fire breaks out. 
  • Fully service harvesting machinery before starting work.
  • Keep cultivators on hand to put in fire breaks in the event of a crop fire
  • Keep water bowsers filled and near harvesting operations to tackle spot fires.