Each year the NFU Mutual deals with more than 1000 claims for combine and tractor fires, totalling £6m.
And though the number of claims is falling, the cost of each one is rising because of more advanced technology and higher repair costs.
While maintenance and regular cleaning can help prevent fires, installng a retro-fit automatic fire protection system can reduce the damage and stop a fire before it spreads.
There are broadly two types of automatic fire extinguishing systems. One floods the whole area and the other tackles it locally.
A good example of the latter is Flameskill’s FlexiTec, which has just been fitted to the Claas Scorpion loader run by the Royal Veterinary College’s farm in Hertfordshire, managed by Sentry Farms.
The FlexiTec system is made up of a composite polymer tube, which can use powder, foam or CO2, depending on what is required. This 4mm thick tube is fitted in and around the area of potential risk, in this case the engine bay, wiring loom and hydraulic block, and is connected to a pressurised fire extinguisher in the bulkhead or cockpit of the machine.
The tube is designed to rupture at 160C and the powder or foam is then released in a relatively small area rather than as a blanket, before a fire can take hold.
The system at Boltons Park Farm uses a 6kg FlexiTec Automatic extinguisher, and cost £295 plus VAT. For another £250, a device can be fitted which informs the operator if the system has been activated and when and where the machine is located. It uses the existing pressure switch on the cylinder, automatically sending out a text or email with the GPS coordinates.
“The reassuring factor is that it is able to activate quickly before a fire can take hold,” says manager Paul Christian. “The Scorpion is in use for six to seven hours a day, in a hostile environment of woodchip shavings and under strain from handling muck.”
And although he emphasises that the Flexitec system isn’t a substitute for regular maintenance and cleaning, it does provide an extra safety measure. “In the future, we may opt for a similar system for the combine, as we run on particularly hazardous flinty ground.”