Grain Producers SA has reinforced its commitment to SA’s Grain Harvesting Code of Practice after members raised concerns that proposed legislative changes to regulate harvest activities will penalise them for a decade of good harvesting practice and prudent risk management.
The code is a set of voluntary guidelines for on-farm crop harvesting activity and outlines a calculation for telling when conditions are safe to harvest grain, based on temperature, relative humidity, wind speed and the dryness of vegetation.
GPSA Chair Wade Dabinett said the grain growing community has an extremely high awareness of the risks of fire and dangerous conditions for fire, as well as experience and capacity to extinguish them.
“Many farmers are volunteers with the CFS in regional locations. The risk of fire is something that every farmer manages every day during the fire danger season. They are prepared and, given their intimate knowledge of their local region, are well placed to fight fires,” he said.
“Grain growers take their responsibility to harvest in safe conditions very seriously. No grain grower would want to be the source of a fire which causes loss of life and property in their own district.
“GPSA is seeking clarification from Minister Wingard on exactly how the bill will impact growers. Our understanding at present is that it will give individuals in the CFS greater powers to direct growers to stop harvesting.
“GPSA is concerned about this because it seems as though grain harvesting is being caught up in a ‘catch-all’ approach to reduce fire risk for any number of activities the CFS deems risky. It does not acknowledge any level of mitigation of fire risk and does not take into account an individual’s capacity to manage fire risk.”
Mr Dabinett said grain growers should be rewarded for the past decade of good behaviour, rather than penalised through further regulation.
“In the past few years, we have communities of growers who are working together to decide when it is and is not safe to harvest, some have established SMS services for notification when the fire danger index reaches a point that it is not safe to harvest,” he said.
“There has been increased investment in on-farm weather stations to monitor safe harvesting conditions, as well as networks of weather stations across districts. The industry has also been very proactive in the past few years in holding workshops discussing best practice farm and harvester preparation for fire prevention.
“All of this highlights the current system is working well and GPSA fails to see what further benefits the changes proposed by Minister Wingard will add for the grain industry.”
Kondinin Group harvester fire expert Ben White, WA, said that any authority to halt harvest without the basis of an objective measure should be avoided.
“SA growers have a better harvest fire mitigation record than the rest of the country. There is no doubt that the voluntary code is working in SA and I see it as a model that some other states could adopt,” he said.
“Most importantly, I have witnessed a community and peer-pressure environment in SA where growers and contractors self-check, regularly communicate and discuss when they should stop, many opting to do so before the Grassland Fire Danger Index hits 35.
“The objective GFDI 35 measure is an incredibly useful tool and growers know how to use it. It far outweighs any subjective measure and forms a benchmark for a stop/go decision.”