Grain producer CFS volunteers threaten to walk away if Harvest Code working height changes

A number of South Australian grain producers who are SA Country Fire Service (CFS) volunteers have stated in a Grain Producers SA (GPSA) survey that they may walk away from their membership if any changes are made to the two-metre work height Grassland Fire Danger Index (GFDI) measurement under the Grain Harvesting Code of Practice.

Almost 400 South Australian grain producers responded to a GPSA survey undertaken during the period the CFS were proposing to correct the GFDI of 35 at 10 metres instead of two metres late last year.

After sustained advocacy from GPSA and grain producers opposing the proposed changes, a decision was made by the Minister for Emergency Services Joe Szakacs and the SACFS in August 2023 to continue current adopted practice under the Grain Harvesting Code of Practice. This decision was welcomed by GPSA.

The outcomes of the GPSA survey of 376 South Australian grain producers conducted during this period found:

  • Eighty-six per cent of grain producers stated they measure wind speed under the South Australian Grain Harvest Code at two metres. Just three per cent measure at ten metres and four percent measure at two metres converting to ten metres.
  • When asked whether they support a “correction” to the Grain Harvest Code to GFDI 35 measured at 10 metres, 90 per cent said no, with just two percent saying yes.
  • Grain producers replying to the survey were also asked whether they tested out the Fire Behaviour Index (FBI) guide of 40 last season, with 50 per cent saying they didn’t, demonstrating the confusion around a national system roll-out.

GPSA Chief Executive Officer Brad Perry said nearly 60 per cent of South Australian grain producers surveyed indicated they were CFS volunteers.

“Our survey data shows that any change to the cease harvest threshold that impacts grain producers’ business is likely to also hit CFS volunteer numbers,” he said.

“Grain producers proudly volunteer their time for the CFS to help their community and they don’t take their membership lightly. However, comments throughout the survey demonstrated just how angry grain producers were about the proposal to move to GFDI 35 measured at 10 metres instead of current practice at two metres. As a result, growers indicated that many of them would have seriously considered walking away from the CFS.”

Some of the comments made by grain producers in the survey:

“If (the) CFS proposal goes ahead I will remove four family members from the CFS”

“If the change comes in, I will be reassessing my CFS membership”

“I’m very disappointed in the CFS taking this approach. I believe that the current system works very well. I will reconsider my CFS membership if the current system is changed.”

“I’d be disappointed if CFS pursue this. I have been a Brigade Captain for 6 years and Deputy Group Officer for 10 years. I anticipate a large loss in volunteer numbers in farming areas if this goes ahead, possibly including myself. The current system of ceasing harvest at FDI 35 is working well in our local area”

“Any changes with the system will promote a large number of CFS volunteers to step down, leaving the district extremely vulnerable.”

“CFS have lots of farmers as volunteers. I’m seriously thinking of leaving if they change the current system, this will make it hard for us to get our harvest off in a timely manner and could have serious financial consequences”

“CFS will lose members on a large scale if they change the GFDI”

“To be honest we will be seriously considering our position in relation to our multigeneration membership of CFS if there is a change”

“We have 5 CFS members in our family, maybe we won’t volunteer. Farmers need to be able to harvest.”

“Due to the high percentage of grain growers volunteering in the CFS, if this rule was to change, the Government will lose any respect remaining and I myself would leave the CFS and advocate for as many others to do the same”

“As a former Captain of my local CFS, and a current volunteer, I cannot understand why as farmers we are continually ignored with all of this. The CFS cannot afford to alienate a major part of its volunteer base, which it is in danger of doing. The system has served us well and adopted widely in the industry.”

“Our family and staff will resign from the CFS if their proposal is to go ahead, as will many others.”

Mr Perry said the current system works well because grain producers can measure the cease harvest threshold at working height in their paddock under relevant conditions and continue to harvest safely under the Code.

“After another successful harvest under the Grain Harvesting Code of Practice measuring GFDI 35 at two metres and with the results of this survey, there is no evidence-based case that can be made to change current practice,” he said.

In the survey, GPSA also requested grain producers provide information on what else they do for fire safety outside of the equipment required by law. There were hundreds of responses ranging from the purchase of ex-CFS fire trucks, installation of firefighting equipment on chaser bins, additional water tankers, adding fire extinguishers and utilising farm firefighting units.

“From the feedback in the survey, it was made clear that many farms are equipped with thousands of litres of extra water in case of a fire, and they maintain and check their machinery and fire breaks,” Mr Perry said.