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Growers' Online Tips for Combine Fire Prevention

Tuesday, August 30, 2011
filed under: Equipment

Keep it clean.

These three little words don’t refer to your kitchen sink or even your joke repertoire. Rather, they are words to live by when it comes to your combine during sunflower harvest. “Fines” — those multitudes of small fibers or fuzz that rub off sunflower hulls during combining and end up accumulating on machine surfaces — pose a real threat of fires. When seeds are dry and engine compartment surfaces are extremely hot, fines can ignite, smolder and sometimes burst into flames. The result, for more than a few sunflower producers, has been a damaged or even destroyed combine.

Many suggest paying close attention to the weather, specifically the humidity. This has become increasingly easier to monitor with smart phone technology right from the cab. Others also say the seed moisture level is a key consideration, recommending cutting the ’flowers at moisture levels no lower than 10%. Still others note that slowing the speed of the combine helps lower the static electricity buildup.

While there’s no magic solution, many growers have found tried and true home remedies for preventing combine fires. Still others simply suggest paying attention to your nose. As they say, “the nose knows” — and when smoldering is detected, it’s time to act fast.

Last fall, the National Sunflower Association issued a request to growers to participate in an online survey to offer recommendations to other growers for preventing and dealing with potential combine fires. To date, 18 responses from seven different states and one Canadian province have been received and are posted on the NSA website.

A grower from McPherson County, S.D., has a four-step program he employs on his 1980 New Holland TR75 and 1990 Case IH 1680. His recommendations include: (1) a piece of log chain bolted to the main frame and allowed to drag on the ground (about 2’ on ground) to release the static caused by the rotating parts and reduce dust sticking to the machine; (2) leaf blower — thoroughly blow off the machine after each unloading with emphasis placed on hot areas such as exhaust manifold, muffler and rotor gear boxes, especially all ledges and corners where dust likes to settle; (3) fire extinguishers — a 10-lb. unit on the rear deck near the engine and on front near the door/ladder; and (4) water — a 2-1/2 gallon container on the rear deck and near the door.

Even if growers follow these types of recommendations to a tee, fires still linger — which is a source of frustration and can result in loss of costly equipment. Some growers have turned to “good old-fashioned ingenuity” for equipment modifications to reduce the risk ( Another avenue for a possible solution rests on the current research on combine fire issues being conducted at South Dakota State University with funding from the South Dakota Oilseed Council (

To view the combine fire survey responses, go to

— Sonia Mullally
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