For Mid North grain producer Adrian McCabe, the Grain Harvesting Code of Practice and corresponding Grassland Fire Danger Index is a simple guide for growers, transporters and receival sites for when to cease operations when conditions become too severe.
Based at Hamley Bridge, Adrian says he follows the code “religiously” and combines it with his own business policies and procedures to keep family, staff and assets safe.
“The code and the GFDI is an excellent system which the whole industry is now looking to in order to determine whether it is safe to harvest, drive in paddocks or handle grain on-farm or at receival sites,” Adrian said.
Adrian keeps a close eye on weather conditions by using a hand-held weather meter in the paddock as well as a network of local weather stations, some of which are owned by other growers.
He says sharing that data is a positive step towards community safety.
“We use the information from the hand-held meter and weather stations to determine the GFDI and whether it is safe to continue harvesting.
“We will always finish when the GFDI exceeds 35 but it also depends on that day as to how early we will finish. It is a common occurrence in our area that if it is day where we think the code will be well exceeded then we and many other growers in our area will pull up early.
“For example, the GFDI might only be at 30 but the graph from the weather stations is trending upwards sharply then it is clear conditions are quickly deteriorating and we will stop harvesting before the index reaches 35.
“However, if the index isn’t spiking as rapidly and there is a cool change forecast for later on then we will continue harvesting up until the GFDI exceeds 35, at which point we will stop until it is safe to resume.”
Keeping family and employees safe starts with a number of policies which staff must follow in the event of a fire. For instance, employees cannot go to a fire on another property unless Adrian or his brother Luke, who he farms with, are also present. It is also against company policy to travel in a vehicle that isn’t owned by the farm during a fire.
The McCabes have three fire-fighting units, two of which are on the back of utes and one on the header comb trailer. Utes are fitted with hand rails on the tray to protect people from falling off if they happen to be operating the fire-fighting unit from the back of the ute. All vehicles carry shovels.
Protective clothing is kept in all vehicles equipped with fire-fighting units, including overalls, gloves, a helmet and glasses. Four-metre wide sprayed fire breaks are maintained around all paddocks to be harvested.
“When our staff are attending fires on other properties they must still comply with our business' occupational health and safety policies, which includes having a manager present at all times,” Adrian said.
“In terms of machinery maintenance, we ensure all the relevant tasks are done prior to harvest and keep up regular inspections during harvest.
“Even if machinery is new, we still keep an eye on bearings and belts to make sure it is all running okay and is well-maintained.”
At least one firefighting unit is always kept in the paddock that is being harvested. Machines are blown down in regular intervals depending on crop type. For example, if harvesting lentils or chickpeas then machines are blown down more regularly than if cereals are being harvested.
On days of higher fire risk, harvesters and chaser bins may be moved out of the paddock and back into the main yard.
Adrian says communication is something that has become natural among the grower community on days of high fire risk.
“Everyone communicates when conditions are looking severe but I am a firm believer in calculating your own local conditions with a hand-held meter or weather station data and to abide by the code based on that,” he said.
Adrian says growers and the wider industry have reached a point where they are comfortable with the code and how it is interpreted. He says self-policing has become more common with many growers realising the repercussions of becoming regulated if they do not follow the voluntary code.
“The code is something we all ‘get’ now and people are comfortable to stop harvesting when the GFDI exceeds 35,” he said.
“We have been through some big fires and we are now capable as a farming group to abide by the GFDI, which is a sensible index.”