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Dry summer and early harvest caused fire devastation for UK farmers

  • NFU Mutual’s fire claims costs rose to nearly £32m during 2018 harvest
  • Electrical and mechanical fires were most common fire cause
  • North West and South East hardest hit

Claims statistics for the 2018 harvest period* revealed today by leading rural insurer NFU Mutual, expose the extent of fire devastation caused by the hot summer and early harvest for UK farmers, threatening the lives of farmers and livestock.

During the harvest period from June to September, claims figures rose by an alarming 21% to £31.5m, compared with £26m in 2017.

July was a particularly tough month for farmers, during which fire costs erupted to almost £13m – a staggering increase of more than 137% on the previous year. The North West and South East regions of England were hardest hit. Serious moorland fires in Lancashire during June were responsible for a large proportion of the North West claims cost.

According to the Met Office**, 2018 was the UK’s warmest summer since 2006, the driest since 2003 and the sunniest since 1995.

Tim Price, NFU Mutual Rural Affairs Specialist, said: “Fire remains one of the greatest hazards on the nation’s farms. We normally see claims peaking in August and September, but this year saw a sharp increase in claims during June and July. This was due to the exceptionally hot dry summer which brought harvesting forward by almost a month and resulted in tinder dry crops and overheating of combines, balers, and other harvesting machinery.”

The most common cause of farm fires during the 2018 harvest period – responsible for almost half of NFU Mutual’s claims – were electrical and mechanical fires, many of which started in vehicles such as balers, combine harvesters and tractors due to the scorching weather providing the perfect environment for overheating.

The second most common cause of fire was spread from elsewhere – such as a barn or homestead, followed in third place by arson.

Tim continued: The scale of these claims shows how important it is to take all possible steps to prevent fires breaking out, and to have clear plans to evacuate people and livestock safely in the event of a fire. Also, it’s vital to make sure you have the right sort of fire extinguishers maintained in good order so you can fight small fires safely.”

NFU Mutual’s harvest farm fire claims cost figures:

Cost of farm fires during harvest period, UK total 2018 vs 2017:

UK total by harvest month2018 cost2017 cost% change cost
Jun£8,957,047£4,486,583+ 99.6%
Jul£12,927,117£5,448,094+ 137.2%
Aug£5,419,487£8,675,825– 37.5%
Sept£4,216,673£7,420,179– 43.1%
Total harvest£31,520,324£26,030,682+ 21%

Cost of farm fires during harvest period 2018 by region:

Region2018 harvest period cost
North West£6,675,928
South East£4,474,682
North East£4,004,463
South West£3,939,594
East of England£3,339,579
Northern Ireland£1,600,704

NFU Mutual Farm Fire checklist

Fire Prevention:

  • Ensure there are sufficient fire extinguishers for the size of buildings and that materials stored are inspected and regularly maintained
  • Ensure staff and adult family members know the location of fire extinguishers and how to use them
  • Reduce the risk of arson by fencing-off straw stacks and farm buildings
  • Store hay and straw at least 10m from other buildings
  • Put in place an evacuation plan for staff and livestock
  • Store petrol, diesel and other fuels in secure areas
  • Schedule regular electrical safety checks
  • Invite your local fire and rescue service to visit to check water supplies and access routes
  • Check for advice on preventing farm fires

If a fire breaks out:

  • Call the Fire and Rescue Service without delay
  • If possible, send someone to the farm entrance to direct the Fire and Rescue Service to the fire to help save time
  • Prepare to evacuate livestock should the fire spread
  • Prepare to use your farm machinery to assist the Fire and Rescue Service

NFU Mutual Risk Management Services Limited provides a long-established face-to-face risk management consultancy service. It is extensively used by large farms and rural businesses to manage the risks in their businesses – including fire.

The company also provides an online service to help smaller farms – typically with a workforce of up to three people – actively manage the risks in their businesses and comply with health and safety legislation.

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