Brent Heidecker, an Alberta, Canada farmer, struggled with fires in his annual canola harvest. Like with sunflowers, he noticed the big problem appeared to be the dust created in the thrashing process. The longer the canola was swathed before combined, the more combustible the crop seemed to be.
They had small smolders every year, but the turning point was three years ago, losing the combine his 78-year-old father was driving.
“By the time he realized the combine was on fire, he had time to get out, but that was about it,” Heidecker says. Fed up, Heidecker purchased “FireStop” kits from Harvest Fire, a company started by Dan Humburg, a retired South Dakota State University (SDSU) agricultural engineer professor.
Hamburg has done extensive research into what causes combine fires and it led him to start producing the add-on kit prototypes which filter the air that hits the exhaust system, preventing the dust from being ignited in the first place. This turned into a business after he retired from SDSU in 2016, largely because of a steady barrage of requests from farmers. Harvest Fire currently sells FireStop kits for $5,950 for multiple older Case IH and John Deere combine models. In addition, they can create kits for models they don’t have per request.
Humburg says that combine manufacturers have “paid attention” to the SDSU work, and newer combine models may be less likely to ignite. However, it can depend on the model, the crop and the grower’s specific conditions.
Heidecker says they still follow all the same safety protocols on his farm, including keeping a water pump on their grain carts just in case. But, they haven’t had a fire since they installed the kits.
“We basically quit worrying, where before it was constant,” Heidecker says.