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Don't get lax on field fires

With little or no rain over the weekend and continued in much of the Corn Belt, it looks to be another week of high field fire danger this week as farmers start in on another busy week of corn and soybean harvest.

In the last 2 weeks, fires have been common in the parched areas of the western and central Corn Belt where corn and soybean harvest has been in full-swing. In one case in northwestern Iowa, a single spark lit up and burned a 120-acre corn field last week. Reports like that are prompting heightened alert for fire again this week.

And now, that's got some farmers wondering whether it should be mandatory for farmers to carry fire coverage on their corn and soybean acres.

"I'm against just about everything 'checkoff' and 'mandatory.' I will make an exception with crop fire insurance.  For a few pennies of checkoff on each bushel, we could have insurance that would take away the farmer's liability if an unthinkable fire started from a combine bearing and wiped out a whole township," says Farm Business senior contributor BA Deere. "I carry my own fire insurance, but Lord only knows how many neighbors do. Houses could be affected as well; many million dollars gone because of one $30 bearing."

If you've got either multi-peril (unless you've opted out of hail/fire perils) or hail/fire coverage on your crops, though, you should be covered. "If not, I would be looking for a different company," says Farm Business Talk frequent contributor farmandfire. "The problem that we are running into is after all the dry weather this summer the corn plants started to cannibalize themselves and now are starting to drop ears on the ground. The winds have been brutal this week in north-central Iowa," he adds. "We take breaks during the heat of the day when the thermals are pushing high winds. Keep going when we start to get some humidity recovery. I can say that for us at least, it has been comforting knowing that I have fire equipment from our prescribed fire business at the end of the field 'just in case.'"

Besides keeping on hand specialized equipment like that, Iowa State University Extension ag engineer Mark Hanna advises the following steps to avoid field fires started by machinery:

  • Keep a clean machine, paying attention to the engine and engine compartment where 75% of all machinery fires start. Use a pressure washer or high pressure air to remove caked-on grease, oil and crop residue.
  • Check engine fluid levels (such as coolant and oil) at the beginning of each day.
  • Check the pressurized oil supply line to the turbocharger shaft for areas that may rub from wear and start an oil leak.
  • Frequently blow leaves and chaff off the engine with compressed air or a portable leaf blower, and remove wrapped plant materials on or near bearings, belts or other moving parts.Examine exhaust or hot bearing surfaces. Repair leaking fuel or oil hoses, fittings or metal lines immediately.

He also advises keeping 2 fire extinguishers -- 1 10-pound unit in the combine cab and a larger 20-pound extinguisher on the outside near the ground. And, keep them in good shape by making sure they're filled and charged regularly.

And, if you're in an area where conditions favor a field fire, keeping field traffic to a minimum is the best way to lower your fire chances.

"Field fires are sometimes started with the passing of a truck, and flames may not be noticed for 15 to 30 minutes," Hanna says. "It's a good idea to not allow extra truck traffic through the field when conditions for fire are favorable."

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