From an abundance of combustible materials and electrical faults to overheating machinery and the threat of arson, there are a myriad of reasons why farms are more vulnerable to incidents of fire – and hot weather accelerates that risk.
As any farmer who has experienced a fire can attest to, the impact can be devastating, resulting in a loss of machinery, hay and straw stores, livestock and buildings.
However, simple measures can be taken to limit risk and protection can be put in place should an incident occur – but farmers need to be vigilant or face a significant financial hit.
There are more than 1,000 fires in agricultural buildings each year, many of which are preventable, according to DEFRA.
During the summer, when contents are liable to dry out quickly, the risk of fire being sparked in farm buildings increases, so now is the time to check what you are insured for.
Farmers should pay particular heed to restrictions.
For example, check if hay-stack limits are defined by value rather than volume. Should a farmer see a stack of hay valued at £60,000 catch fire, it is likely that he or she won’t be covered.
A policy often stipulates a distance limit too, so ensure you are up-to-date on what your obligations are.
The best way to comply with the terms of a policy is to split stacks and keep them in different locations.
Limit the risks
When it comes to why fires start in buildings, the reasons are many, from naked bulbs and misplaced glass or mirrors to arson attacks and electrical faults.
Unfortunately, once tinder-dry hay and straw piled up in barns goes up in flames, it is almost impossible to put the fire out.
We know of one farmer who lost thousands after an inferno on his Scottish farm last year.
An electrical fault in a forklift sparked the blaze in a barn, which was also housing round bales and a recently restored John Deere 2140 tractor. Despite efforts to put the fire out, it quickly ravaged the entire building, destroying all of the contents. Although the farmer had a farm combined policy, he lost a significant amount on the value of the burnt-out vehicles and also lost out on recovering the cost of the hay and straw, due to gaps in cover.
It is expensive to replace produce which is needed to feed livestock through the winter – and indeed valuable machinery – so ensure sufficient insurance is in place for this eventuality.
Other fire risks
When it comes to harvest machinery, make sure they are well maintained and cleared of dried debris. Last year’s chaff and dust can accumulate in the combines or balers and ignite.
Farmers may wish to use water bowsers when harvesting, to limit fire risk.
Wildfire is a risk but farm combined policies will cover damage caused to a farmer’s own buildings by spreading wildfire, and Public Liability will provide protection if a fire spreads from a farmer’s land to a neighbour’s.
Arson is always a threat, but some security measures will help reduce risk, such as keeping buildings locked up, securing and maintaining perimeters, locking away fuel stores and installing security lights.
Have a plan
An evacuation plan, for family, workers and livestock, should be a top priority when it comes to emergency planning. Make entrances to fields easily accessible for fire engines and ensure fire departments are aware of sources of water on the land.
Don’t overlook basic risk management. It is surprising how many farmers lack adequate fire extinguishers, despite spending thousands of pounds on insurance. Water bowsers are also a simple measure. When travelling long distances, particularly to remote areas, take water bowsers as a precaution. Should a fire start, you can react instantly.
Finally, remember that good fire practice can result in lower insurance premiums – and additional incentive for keeping the risk of fire at the forefront of your mind.