Click to contact us or call 02476 353537

Expecting a rise in wet harvest farm fires

cornish mutual3

Heavy rainfall and wet crops during this years harvest season could lead to an increase in farm fires caused by spontaneous combustion, according to South West rural insurance firm Cornish Mutual.

The company is warning the Westcountrys farmers that they could risk causing a blaze by promoting fermentation by baling and stacking hay, straw or other crops when they are still damp. Cornish Mutual thinks there could be more of a risk in 2011 because of the unsettled wet weather experienced so far during August.

Earlier this month, the insurer handled a claim near Wellington in Somerset suspected to be caused by spontaneous combustion through fermentation costing in the region of 15,000.

Statistics from Cornish Mutual show that over the last year* they handled over 390,000 worth of claims involving farm fires. Barn fire claims alone came to almost 280,000, whilst tractor fires caused over 43,000 worth of claims to be made.

Spontaneous combustion can happen if crops are not dry enough when stored in bulk and put away too soon. It begins with a slow oxidation process (as bacterial fermentation) where heat slowly builds up and cannot dissipate in the centre of a haystack. Oxidation gradually raises the temperature inside to the point at which a fire starts.

Philip Wilson, Area Business Development Manager for Cornish Mutual, says: This is a real problem for many farmers and this year the fire risk could be even worse because of all the rain and wet weather weve experienced in the last few weeks. Normally the farmer cuts the crop, lays it on the field and turns it a few times before baling it, but if the crop isnt dry enough when its baled and stored and the moisture content is too high, it could ignite through spontaneous combustion and go up in flames.

Cornish Mutual, which has Inspectors across the South West, provides insurance cover for spontaneous combustion through fermentation.

Philip says he would like to see farmers stacking their bales further apart or in smaller stacks, The younger the grass, the more likely it is to self-combust. Using bigger bales presents more of a problem because the crop is packed tighter, so if farmers can think about leaving a foot gap between the bales that would help the air to circulate and cool them down.

The risk of arson can be a problem at this time of year too according to Philip, Because farmers will often leave the crop in the field to dry, this can be an easy target for bored children or young people. We have a continuous issue with this where the bale or crop has been deliberately set on fire and the blaze spreads and causes a great deal of damage.

Every year Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service crews attend on average 36 farm or agricultural building fires. In most cases the buildings are destroyed by fire, often with the loss of large amounts of stock, straw, hay, farm machinery, chemicals and even livestock.

Philip says farm machinery such as balers, combine harvesters, grain dryers and tractors are also at risk of catching fire, Often youll find the vehicle has been put away and stored after the last harvest and farmers are using the machinery for the first time. Commonly dust or debris gathers in engines or other parts of the vehicle and this can be ignited when it gets hot. We also find that parts may have corroded or vermin may have chewed through electrical cables, so it is worth farmers checking their equipment before using it.

Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service and Cornish Mutual recently published an eight-page fire safety advisory booklet for farmers. This is available by visiting, by email or by calling 0300 1234 100. For more information about Cornish Mutual visit

Cornish Mutual Although staying true to its origins in agriculture (around two thirds of Cornwalls farmers are Members), Cornish Mutual now provides farm, household, commercial, events and personal accident insurance to Members throughout the rural communities of Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Dorset.  The company has been established for over 100 years. For more information visit

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked * great opportunity to promote your business to our dedicated readership of farmers, landowners, estate managers and associated agricultural professionals.
Contact us today on 02476 353537 and let's work together to drive your business forward.