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Published June 11, 2014, 10:01 AM

MCGA encourages corn farmers to plan ahead for propane needs

Even though harvest season is months away, the Minnesota Corn Growers Association is encouraging farmers to plan ahead for their propane needs.

By: Agweek staff report,

SHAKOPEE, Minn. — Even though harvest season is months away, the Minnesota Corn Growers Association is encouraging farmers to plan ahead for their propane needs.

Last winter, farmers and homeowners were hit hard by a propane shortage caused by several factors, including sub-zero temperatures, record propane exports and the closing of the Cochin pipeline. MCGA staff have been meeting with industry representatives and state agencies who are working on strategies to try and prevent a similar shortage this winter.

“It’s absolutely essential that farmers plan ahead for their propane needs,” says MCGA president Ryan Buck. “There’s a good chance that the days of having propane delivered as you need it during harvest — something farmers had been used to before last year — are over for the foreseeable future.”

Corn farmers use propane to operate grain dryers that dry the harvested kernels. If the corn crop comes in wet, it must be dried for storage to prevent rot. If a farmer doesn’t have access to propane to run the dryer, harvesting is slowed or stops altogether.

“Farmers need to be ready for another shortage and plan accordingly, especially if we’re hit with another wet fall and colder-than-normal winter,” Buck says. “As best you can, address your anticipated propane needs for the fall harvest right now. I know that’s difficult since we have no idea how wet this year’s crop will be, but we need to be thinking about it.”

Farmers needed more propane than usual for drying last year because the corn crop was wetter than normal, something that happens about once every five years. But reasons for the shortage extended well beyond a wet corn crop.

The Cochin pipeline had supplied 36 percent of Minnesota’s propane, but was out of service for several weeks last winter and now carries oil from Canada’s tar sands instead of propane.

Because of this, rail demand for propane delivery has also spiked dramatically. Some estimates have the number of rail cars necessary to meet Minnesota’s propane needs rising from 200 to 4,200 per year after the re-routing of the Cochin pipeline. Bad winter weather significantly slows down rail service.

Additionally, more propane is being exported to other countries than ever before. According to the Energy Information Administration, propane exports rose to 410,000 barrels per day in November, the highest ever, and remained high throughout the winter months.

“We’ve had wet corn years in the past, but we’ve never seen a propane shortage like what we experienced last winter,” Buck says.

MCGA also submitted a letter asking the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to temporarily vary its rules and allow several proposed large propane storage units to be built to help increase storage capacity and better meet demand from farmers, homeowners and businesses heading into the winter. Currently, the permit approval process for building a storage tank can take up to a year.