A simple system for cooling headers, dreamt up by western Victorian grain farmer Frank Burchell, from Banyeena, developed with the help of his brother Chris and manufactured to their specs by a local engineering firm, promises to cut the risk of harvest fires significantly.
Frank had the idea for the new header-cooling modification after witnessing several header fires start while he was harvesting pulse crops in Victoria’s Swan Hill in 2016.
Losses following paddock fires were more than merely financial, he told ABC Rural in mid-February 2017: such events, if they occurred during peak harvest periods, could wreak havoc on the business, with “the potential loss of equipment, of crops, of people's time and other people's land and property”.
“It's just danger all over,” Frank said.
Last November, following a fire on their property that “put the wind up them”, the Burchell brothers approached local firm Horsham Hydraulics for help in designing and installing the simple ‘fan and camera’ system on their header.
“[They] … wanted to talk to me about ways we could get a fan set up on their machine so that it would blow the dust and dirt off, so it would stop catching fire," Richard Nagorcka at Horsham Hydraulics told ABC Rural.
Horsham Hydraulics worked to the brothers’ brief to create a simple but effective design that would work optimally with their brand of harvester.
“It's literally like an air seater fan that you find on the back of an air seeder," Frank explained to ABC Rural. “It splits off into about six ducts, each going to a different area around the engine, manifold, exhaust muffler system and, on this particular header, blowing air around to the hot-spot areas.”
“It blows up around the batteries and under the chopper shaft, and right up to the front on top of the feeder housing adapter to keep the front area clean.”
Growers adopt new harvest-fire-reduction system
Not surprisingly, given the risk and cost of harvest fires, the new fan-and-camera system is catching on like, well, wildfire.
Since word got around, fellow farmers have been so keen that several have parted with up to $6,000 a pop to have customised versions fabricated for their own harvesting machinery.
Nagorcka noted that no header was the same as the next; thus, installing effective cooling fans on different machines presents something of a challenge. Subsequent to tailoring the Burchells’ fan-camera system, however, his Horsham firm has fitted at least half a dozen more headers with similar systems.
Meanwhile, Nagorcka is in the process of designing kits for various types of machinery, and is working on ways to spread the idea further. “There's certainly the potential to go all around Australia with this,” he told ABC Rural.
According to Frank Burchell, farmer feedback so far is uniformly positive. “I think they all believe it's the best money spent,” he said.
How does the new system cut the risk of harvest fires?
Even top-name harvesters can catch on fire in the paddock. Whether this is due to dust and straw from pulse and legume crops (lentils, chickpeas and the like) settling on the exhaust pipe, igniting, then dropping and spreading, or to static electricity, the fact is that if you keep the dust from settling in these places, it won’t ignite.
No brand of header, harvester or combine harvester seems to be free of this hazard, states Horsham Hydraulics on its website. “John Deere, Case, New Holland, Cat, Class, Massey Ferguson and Gleaner, just to name a few, all provide ignition points for these devastating incidents,” it claims.
The company now offers a harvester-blower system design and installation service, with systems “ducted to the vital parts of the machine like the exhaust manifold, turbo, battery area and other points of build-up… [u]tilising existing hydraulics on the machine to drive a Smallaire blower fan ducted to the various parts of the machine with nozzles specifically designed to prohibit the dust from settling”.
It can also supply and fit “complete DIY kits”, each of which is equipped with a speed-controllable fan, six-outlet manifold, 20 metres of air-hose ducting and six outlet nozzles. Optional extras include full hydraulic hose kit, fan-mounting brackets, RPM counter, electronic controls and additional outlets.
Source: ABC Rural