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Mikkel Pates. Forum News Service, Published November 26 2013

Propane supply concerns ease for farmers, elevator operators

FARGO – The propane corn drying crisis of 2013 appears to be over.

Elevator operators and farmers throughout the region report they were slowed but not stopped in their corn harvest when propane supplies tightened up in late October. Corn harvest was 78 percent complete in North Dakota last week, according to a National Agricultural Statistics Service official.

Warren Boughton, in en-ergy sales with Dakota Plains Cooperative, based in Valley City, says drying season was pretty much wrapped up last week. There were times when the co-op had to ration supplies to customers.

A sudden surge of corn harvesting in the region caused a lack of supply. Boughton, whose coopera-tive serves about 70 percent of the area in southeast North Dakota, says farmers had gotten by with relatively little drying in the previous two years, so this was quite a substantial increase, with relatively poor drying in the field.

“There’s still corn out there, but a lot of that now is going to the elevator,” he says.

Mike Prochnow, a farmer near Hankinson who said he hadn’t been able to get sufficient supplies locally when he needed it in late October, said things turned out better than he’d ex-pected. He finished grain drying Nov. 19.

Prochnow and his father and brother farm together. He says propane wasn’t available because he hadn’t ordered it in advance un-der a contract.

The shortage led to some fast footwork.

Without the propane, Prochnow shifted to har-vesting a few soybeans. Meanwhile, he solved the problem. Prochnow and a neighbor contracted with Bosselman Energy of Ne-braska to bring up a 9,000-gallon tanker and split the load. But then his normal supplier in Hankinson “scrounged up a load,” so the two farmers each had a full one. The Nebraska company for a time added a second truck for the south-east North Dakota loads.

Getting what they need

Ken Hellevang, a North Dakota State University Extension Service agricul-tural engineer who special-izes in grain storage and drying techniques, says that while he only gets “bits and pieces” of the situation, it’s his impres-sion that “most of the guys are getting the propane they need.”

He says a lot of farmers were harvesting corn at 18 to 22 percent moisture. “I haven’t had as many of those calls in the last week, but I was getting quite a few of them in the middle and northern part of the state. Up there, some guys were trying to figure out what to do with 24 percent to 27 percent moisture corn.”

Hellevang says propane initially had been $1.45 to $1.50 per gallon and went up to more than $2 per gallon.

NASS says corn harvest in some areas of the state was slowed as farmers waited for high-moisture corn to dry in the fields, partly because of the pro-pane shortages and partly because of available stor-age. Some elevators were limiting the bushels of corn that could be delivered based on the amount that could be dried down each day, the report says.