Helping farmers burnt by the heatwave with best-practice harvest admin

Agri Harvester Machine Harvesting Grain Combine Harvester Ripe Condition  002

It’s been a scorching summer, but with the warm weather finally now over and Autumn upon us, it’s worth reflecting on the impact of the UK’s heatwave for the farming industry and the lessons we can take into 2019 and beyond.

The long, dry summer days and unprecedented temperatures provoked the full gamut of emotions amongst the public, from happy-go-lucky sun-worshippers to embattled urban commuters, while out on the fields farmers were forced to contend with hugely challenging conditions for crop processing that resulted in a high number of reported combine harvester and tractor fires. As newspapers continued to publish imagery of bronzed, dried-out vegetation where we’d normally expect to see lush, grassy pastures, it was no surprise to hear National Farmers’ Union (NFU) urging the public and farmers to be vigilant in both preventing and reporting any incidents of fires.   

So what was the biggest trend? Well, the build-up of chaff (dry straw, dust etc.) either in the chamber of farmers’ combines or around the exhausts of tractors, made for ideal tinder and, sadly, many went up in flames as the hot conditions persisted. Yet as farmers rushed to make their claims and get back on their feet, proving the cause of these fires was easier said than done. Yes, the path of the fire was in most cases clearly defined; the challenge came in proving whether the chaff had been cleared, as recommended on a daily basis by the combine manufacturers, given that the fires invariably consumed the evidence.

Every year farmers face a frenetic and frenzied period in the rush to harvest their crops – made ever worse by a sustained heatwave – and unfortunately this summer we saw some farmers trying to save vital time by leaving the chaff in their machines. Not only did any resultant fires cost them the full day of crop processing but, worse still, they were left waiting weeks without vital machinery while insurers completed their checks/indemnity and machine valuations.

Consider that a New Holland CR8.90 has a value of £350,000.00 + VAT and it’s easy to see why this scenario has taken a serious toll on farm finances. The lack of evidence also created a challenging claims experience for those affected, with further downtime endured while awaiting replacement machinery – always a challenge in the peak season when stock is limited and higher numbers of machines are tied up in use or out on hire.

Two clear lessons stand out. The first is for farmers to consider taking out cover for hire so that, should the worst happen for any reason, they at least reduce the stress of yet another uninsured expense while their replacement claim is being processed.

The second, for our entire sector, is to heed the guidance of manufacturers to the letter when it comes to maintaining vital machinery. This responsibility should not sit with busy, hard-working farmers alone. It is our role as the insurers to continue to educate the market – utilising our close relationships with these manufacturers to best advantage. It is also the role of our brokers as they continue to advise their farming customers on an ongoing basis.

Ultimately, the benefits of clearing out the chaff daily as advised by the machine manufacturers is vital and will pay for itself in the long run. So whatever the weather in 2019, let’s make sure we’re all doing what we can to promote best-practice harvest admin and help keep challenging claims down to a minimum. 

Nicola Rusling, Team Leader within ERS' dedicated Agricultural Claims Unit which has seen a rise in fire-related claims this summer says: 

“Material damage to machinery is an unfortunate but inevitable aspect of farming life. Where there are preventative steps that farmers can take, it’s in all of our interests to keep pushing these messages out to market, particularly in the case of fire where a lack of evidence can slow down the claims process. In other instances – such as where farmers are repairing machines themselves – we urge them to keep hold of the damaged parts and preserve the evidence trail. Ultimately, no one knows what next summer holds, but the general trend of severe weather events is increasing, which means we must up the ante when it comes to preserving delicate, high value machinery.”

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