Propane supplies tight as harvest-related demand grows
MURDOCK — Transport trucks are traveling as far as Kansas and Nebraska and waiting as long as 10 to 15 hours at terminals to fetch propane needed to dry corn being harvested in west central Minnesota this year.
Propane distributors in the region are struggling to keep pace with the demand this year, due both to the wet conditions across the Upper Midwest and constrictions in the supply to the region.
“It’s just a bad deal,’’ said Dean Isaacson, general manager of West-Con, headquartered in Holloway.
West-Con unloaded 250,000 bushels of wet corn on the ground Thursday to hold it until it can be worked through the driers. The tight propane supply has led West-Con to send trucks out of state — in one case as far as Texas — to obtain propane.
It is also converting one of its propane corn driers so that it can use liquefied natural gas.
Isaacson said the company has the need for seven loads of propane a day to dry corn, but in recent days has managed to obtain only about three loads.
There have been no reports of major users running out of propane, but keeping up with the need has been very difficult at best, said Dan Selander, Dooley’s Petroleum, Murdock.
“At times it’s very, very difficult to find,’’ said Selander.
Dooley’s has seen long lines at terminals, where 10- to 15-hour waits are being experienced to get loaded.
Its transport trucks have hauled LP from as far as Kansas and Nebraska.The added travel means consumers are faced with higher freight costs, he noted.
One of the problems facing the region is the upcoming reversal of the Kinder Morgan-owned Cochin Pipeline that provides propane to the Upper Midwest. A terminal on the line in Benson has provided this region with ready access to this main supply artery.
The pipeline owner is in the process of reversing the line so that it will no longer carry gas from Canada to the U.S. It will instead be carrying gas from the U.S. to the western oil fields in Canada.
While that reversal has not yet happened, changes are being made on the line to prepare for the reversal early next year, said Selander. There are times when trucks at the Benson terminal have had access to only one of the two loading stations. A portion of the gas is being reserved for demand elsewhere.
In most years, corn drying needs in the Upper Midwest are staged. This year, the wet conditions throughout the Upper Midwest have farmers in the Dakotas, Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin drying their crops simultaneously.
Distributors have also had a difficult time getting a good read on the demand this year due to the erratic weather. Farmers bounced back and forth between harvesting their soybean and corn crops in the region, noted Selander.
And, there is little choice but to dry the corn. Corn recently delivered to West-Con averaged at 20.7 percent moisture, or well above the desired 15 percent level for storage.
Selander said Dooley’s is doing everything necessary to make sure customers that depend on propane exclusively — such as turkey barns — do not run out. He noted that the demand comes just as the home heating season begins, which is further aggravating the situation.
The problems appear to be the most difficult in the areas west and north of Willmar, where more of the crop still waits to be harvested.
Conditions are better to the south, where the harvest is further along. Glen Moe, manager of the Farmers Union Oil Company (Cenex) in Montevideo, said the cooperative has been doling out its supply to farmers and meeting needs.
He estimates that the harvest is more than one-half complete. “We’re over the hump right now,’’ he said.
The supply appears to be keeping pace in Renville County as well, where the corn harvest is also further along.
“We’re doing the best we can for our customers,’’ said Selander. “It’s definitely a challenging fall, to say the least.’’