Dry fields and dry cornstalks are making combine and field fires a bigger risk this harvest. I've already heard a couple stories of bad combine fires. The fires usually start from a combination of high heat from the combine, residue buildup or mechanical issues in the machine, and the extremely dry conditions in many areas. This year, we're much more concerned because of the dryness.
Once a little spark lights a fire, it's going to spread very quickly through a dried-out field, especially if it's windy. A fire in an un-harvested field could start if someone just drives by and throws a cigarette into a ditch. It could start from a piece of equipment dragging slightly on the road, throwing a spark. This year it's not going to take much.
You need to make sure you're protected properly for these risks. Multi-peril crop insurance doesn't cover fires started by anything except entirely natural causes, like lightning. However, you can get specific coverage for fires started by a combine, truck, or other piece of equipment in a couple different ways.
Fire coverage can come through your hail policy. It will cover you up to the extent of your hail coverage per acre. Fires can be covered through a separate named peril policy that only covers fire risks. Also, some farm insurance policies will cover fires. It's important to know and understand where your fire coverage is coming from, and that you're covered appropriately. You should discuss that with your ag risk advisor or crop insurance agent.
The situation becomes a little different if your combine starts a fire in your field, and it spreads into a neighbor's field. Fire policies via your hail coverage or named peril policies only cover your acres. If that fire gets out of control and spreads to your neighbor's fields, then it becomes a farm liability issue. Coverage needs to come from your farm blanket policy for this risk.
Of course, it's best to prevent fires from happening in the first place. Typically, the cleaner you keep your combine before and all throughout harvest, the less likely it is to start a fire. Even if you usually keep the combine pretty clean, this is the year you'll want to make sure it's extra clean. While you're harvesting, stop about every four to six hours and remove as much dust and residue from the combine as you can.
Keep a fire extinguisher in the cab of every machine you have running so you can immediately take control in a fire situation. Having other fire extinguishers available and reachable from the ground is a good idea. So focus on good combine maintenance and build some system checks into your schedule. With good risk management practices, we can make the 2012 harvest season as safe as possible for everyone.