Grain Harvesting Code of Practice Review Update

As grain producers across South Australia get out on the air seeder amongst hopefully moist sub-soil, discussions are occurring behind the scenes on a workable ‘cease harvest’ number to prevent fire events on-farm.

The Grain Harvesting Code of Practice Review Working Group, made up of Independent Chair Rob Kerin, GPSA, SACFS, SAPOL and PIRSA, has met three times since it was established.

Since August 2022, when Grain Producers SA (GPSA) was informed about a change in the Grain Fire Danger Index (GFDI) cease harvest number of 35 to the new Fire Behaviour Index (FBI) cease harvest number of 40, we have been seeking a resolution based on consistency with past practices  from the SA Country Fire Service (SACFS).

We sought and was granted a delay in the roll-out of the Fire Behaviour Index (FBI) cease harvest number last season. The Working Group is now exploring the assumptions behind the new FBI model and providing on-the-ground data to ensure a feasible working outcome for producers is reached.

At the first meeting, it was agreed by the Working Group that the ‘cease harvest’ threshold must strike the right balance between managing the risk of fire and the operating requirements of grain harvesters.

Farmers do not want to put their property, or their neighbouring properties, at risk. However, dry and hot conditions, which can be high risk for fire, are normal operating conditions for harvesting in Australian summers.

It was further agreed by the Working Group that the ‘cease harvest’ threshold (using Grass Fire Danger Index or GFDI) had worked well under the superseded Grain Harvesting Code of Practice. It was acknowledged, however, that the transition from GFDI to Fire Behaviour Index (FBI), made necessary by the implementation of the national approach to fire danger ratings under Australian Fire Danger Rating System, has not gone smoothly and there is a need to review the threshold to ensure that the new approach is consistent and appropriate. It was agreed overall that the aim is to re-establish the conditions previously in place under the superseded approach.

At the March recent meeting, the Working Group reviewed a report which explored the calculation and application of the ‘cease harvest’ threshold historically.

The most significant finding of this review and discussion is the disparity between the intended ‘cease harvest’ conditions under GFDI 35 and the real-world operating conditions being applied under the code, which was found to be closer to conditions of Total Fire Ban at FBI 50.

GPSA will continue to work within the spirit of the Working Group towards a solution that is practical for South Australian grain producers while helping to keep the community safe from fire.

Written by GPSA CEO Brad Perry. First appeared in the Stock Journal