Using satellites to prevent haystack fires

04-07-2022 | |
Haystack fires are often completely unexpected. - Photo: Wai Siew
Haystack fires are often completely unexpected. - Photo: Wai Siew

Australian farmers could soon be using satellites to monitor the risks of haystack fires.

A new Australian research project between Food Agility CRC, Charles Sturt University (CSU), IAG, and Myriota will review what data is most essential to understanding haystack degradation as a precursor to fires.

Spontaneous ignition leading cause of haystack fires

According to the Country Fire Authority (CFA), spontaneous ignition is the leading cause of haystack fires in Victoria. Preventable fires put crops, machinery, and fencing at risk, as well as impacting the livelihood and mental health of those impacted.

Throughout the project, haystacks will be individually monitored. The data collected will be transmitted via Myriota developed satellite communication technology to a central monitoring and visualisation location. The data will be modelled to recommend sensor configuration and placement in haystacks and generate timely alerts to farmers when their haystacks are at an increased chance of combustion.

Send alerts

The research team will also look at how to identify the critical indicators and process this data to send alerts through Myriota’s satellite communications system. This will allow for monitoring on properties that previously had low or no telecommunications coverage.

According to Paul Sheridan, Vice President Strategic Partnerships at Myriota, without ubiquitous coverage, Australian farmers face time-critical gaps of knowledge on asset exposure, vulnerability, and possible hazards. “This project will leverage Myriota’s reliable and cost-effective satellite IoT technology to help farmers accurately monitor their hay health even in the most remote locations”, he says.

Farmers need to better understand haystack degradation

Professor David Lamb, Chief Scientist at Food Agility CRC, emphasises that with more farmers ‘putting feed away for a non-rainy day’, farmers need to better understand haystack degradation. “This project could significantly improve our collective knowledge regarding how the quality of baled hay changes over time and the threat of spontaneous fires”, he says. “Anything we can do to help safeguard the livelihood of Australian farmers is worth doing.”

Lead Researchers Dr John Broster of Charles Sturt University points out that farmers spend a lot of money and time making hay for sale or for their own fodder reserves. “Haystack fires result in the loss of that asset, and the worst part is that it is completely unexpected. We are aiming to change that with monitoring technology”, Dr Broster explains.

René Groeneveld Correspondent for Australia