Preventing Hay Fires

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Fires that damage or destroy hay and barns can cost farmers thousands of dollars in one day. In the county we have several producers that have hay sitting in their fields or barns right now. It is important to take every possible precaution to prevent a hay fire.

Hay fires usually occur within six weeks of baling but can happen at any time. They can also occur on any “style” as well: loose hay, small bales, large bales, stacks, stored inside or outside. Hay baled with high moisture content provides the optimal condition for bacterial growth. As these bacteria multiply, the release heat into the bale and can cause an internal temperature of 130-140° F. Eventually the microorganisms will die but more bacteria may replace them before the temperature decreases to a “safe” level. The higher the moisture, the longer the bale will remain at a high temperature which increases the chance for fire.

The best way to prevent a hay fire is to bale at a 20% or lower moisture content. The microbial activity significantly decreases the lower in moisture. Some ways to decrease the moisture content in your hay include: baling under appropriate conditions, using proper equipment, and possibly using hay preservatives. Baling under appropriate conditions is one of the most effective ways to prevent moisture buildup. The recommended time frame for baling is later in the day, having a slight wind, and humidity of 50% or less.

When storing hay inside, make sure the area is weatherproof and kept dry. If storing outside, covering the bales in plastic or waterproof material can help protect them from excess moisture. Setting the bales up in a way that will allow air to circulate between them can aid in the drying process.

This is just some basic advice for preventing hay bale fires. Making sure hay is baled at the appropriate moisture content and stored properly can help avert damaging losses. Please call the extension office with any questions about hay moisture or any forage concerns.