WITH strong seasonal growth of pastures and crops, CFA is warning farmers to exercise caution when cutting, baling and storing hay.

The most recent seasonal outlook for spring, released by the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council, showed average to above-average rainfall is expected, which will promote strong vegetation growth.

CFA Chief Officer Jason Heffernan said the forecast indicated farmers could expect greater yields and hopefully a successful hay season.

“Add to that the current high demand for hay – in part due to the mouse plague in NSW wreaking havoc on stored hay in that state – and a lot of farmers are growing hay right across Victoria right now,” he said.

CFA volunteer firefighters responded to dozens of haystack fires across the state last year.

Mr Heffernan said haystack fires can start quite easily from lightning strikes or sparks from equipment and machinery, but a major source of ignition was spontaneous combustion of the haybales themselves.

Spontaneous combustion can occur when hay has either not properly dried before baling, or has been exposed to rain or damp conditions, meaning moisture content in the bales is higher than the recommended levels.

Important tips
• Ensure hay is well cured before baling;
• Keep haystacks to a limited size, and don’t stack hay right to the top of a hay shed;
• Watch for unusual odours such as pipe tobacco, caramel, burning or musty smells; and
• Store hay in separate stacks or sheds away from farm equipment and other buildings.

Temperature guide – what to do when your hay is overheating.

Use a thermometer in a probe or insert a crowbar into the middle of the stack for two hours.

Less than 50 degrees C (can handle crowbar without discomfort) – Check temperature daily.

50 degrees C – 60 degrees C (can only handle crowbar for short time) – Check temperature twice daily. Remove machinery from shed.

60 degrees C – 70 degrees C (can touch bar only briefly) – Check temperature every 2-4 hours. Move hay to improve air flow.

Over 70 degrees C (bar is too hot to hold – Potential for fire. Call 000 immediately. Avoid walking on top of haystack.