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Farming guidelines for the management of bushfire risk

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The risk of bushfires is of real concern to Australia’s farmers and land owners.  In response various advisory bodies, including the Government Of South Australia, have produced guidelines to help people in the agricultural and farming industry to reduce these risks.

Read on for Fatcow.com.au’s summary of the actions that can be taken by farmers to help reduce the risks posed to business, land, property and assets by bushfires:

Bushfire Management Plans – District Bushfire Management Committees will have developed plans for the management of local bushfires.  Ensure that you are familiar with the plans and putting them into action.

Bush Management Zones – By splitting the area into zones it helps to prioritise the management of bushfires and action to be taken.  The zones are designed to offer protection to humans, buildings, properties and areas of biodiversity. Refer to Bushfire Management Plans for further details

Fire Access Tracks – act as fuel breaks and assist fire crews with reaching bushfires.  It is best to discuss the location with the local fire brigade and they should be constructed following guidelines based on the level of bushfire risk

Firebreaks – These should be constructed in accordance with guidelines and the level of bushfire risk.  They generally take the form of 7-20metre cultivated, sprayed or mown areas that are strategically located along fence lines, public roads and remnant vegetation.

Cutting and Baling – Strategic harvesting of hay or straw from approximately 15% of the total cereal crop area, in conjunction with firebreaks is recommended.  Also consider the use of a fire-resistant exhaust cover whilst cutting hay.

Harvest Management – Refer to the grain harvesting code of practice for guidance.  It is recommended that stubble height is reduced to 10-15cm to reduce the risk of fire spreading

Stubble Management – Grazing, rolling, chaining, harrowing and slashing are post harvest activities that help to reduce the risk of fire spread.  If heaping is necessary several small and manageable heaps are better than one large one.

Haystack Management – To stop haystack fires starting a bushfire care should be taken to store hay and silage dispersed across the property, away from buildings, road sides and power sources, protected from water and in an area that is clear of vegetation for at least 20 metres around the stack.  Depending on the crop and baling method the moisture should be maintained at 12-18%

Vehicles – Driving vehicles with catalytic convertors through dry vegetation is particularly hazardous – consider the risk before driving.

Plant and Equipment Management – It is essential to consider the risk of firer from grinding, slashing, welding, mowing and other activities.  Operators must check regularly for the build up of straw and grass near to hot machinery as well as for fire and machinery must not be left unattended if there is a risk of fire. 

On Total Ban Days certain activities are only allowed with a special permit.

Fuel Hazard Assessment – It is essential for farmers to be responsible about the levels of fuel stored on their land.  An assessment should be carried out to help identify actions that will reduce fuel loads

Prescribed Burning – Prescribed burning can be used to reduce fuel loads in specific situations such as the reduction of bushfire spread, however mechanical reduction of fuel has less environmental impact and is the preferred method wherever possible. 

Reducing ground fuel such as leaves and twigs can be achieved through prescribed burning, however this may encourage the growth of weeds, so must be well controlled and monitored.

Native Vegetation – In certain situations it is permissible to clear natural vegetation in for fuel reduction purposes.  Make reference to the Native Vegetation Group for details.

Fire Suppression – any activity undertaken by farmers to suppress fire on their own and neighbouring properties must be within guidelines

For further advice on preparing agricultural land for bushfire prevention and management contact the local fire station.  Local government offices and websites can provide further information.  Visit Fatcow.com.au to source suitable equipment, machinery, tools and protective items.

Photo: a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from johndal's Flickr photo stream

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