Perfect storm squeezes MN propane supply

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

Demand for propane in Minnesota is surging following a delayed harvest leaving corn with higher moisture content and an earlier-than-usual start to home-heating season. Consumption is running at levels not seen in seven years, according to some propane dealers.

This is the wettest year on record for Minnesota, combined with the lowest amount of measured evaporation since 1964, according to University of Minnesota College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Sciences’ Mark Seeley. Both have led to very poor conditions for natural field drying.

With temperatures 10 -15 degrees below normal, home heating and crop drying have created high demand for propane. According to the Minnesota Propane Association, providing propane for home heat and animal confinement remains the number one focus, but the industry will continue to seek all the propane supply it can to fulfill the crop drying needs of Minnesota farmers.

The Minnesota Propane Association reported propane has been shipped into the state at record rates. In an average November, propane marketers in Minnesota use 190 transport loads of propane per day for the state. This year they are shipping nearly 300 transports per day.

Propane outages and rationing appear to be a growing possibility in some locations, but the uncomfortable reality on the ground is long waits at propane dealers.

In response to wait times eight hours and longer, Governor Tim Walz issued an executive order to temporarily suspend the normal rules for commercial driving hours, so that truckers caught waiting can still pick up and deliver their loads.

“People are scrambling because nobody expected it to hit all at once like this,” said Joel James, energy department manager at Glacial Plains Cooperative in Benson. “The gallons are in the country, (but) the infrastructure just can’t move it fast enough.”

Propane dealers around the state report adding new farm customers at a record rate, reflecting the volume of high-moisture grain they are bringing in.

“In 17 years at the coop, I have never had this many contracts with dryer customers…we are 200,000 gallons over our average compared to previous years,” said Brian Stueber, the energy department manager of the Farmers Cooperative of Hanska.

The challenges associated with propane infrastructure is not new in Minnesota. In mid-2014, the biggest propane supplier to the state, Kinder-Morgan, reversed a pipeline that formerly delivered 160 million gallons a year to the region, and instead sent gas elsewhere.

The Minnesota propane industry responded by creating more rail and trucking infrastructure to cover the state’s needs. But, additional infrastructure to move fuel is needed during especially wet years.

“I imagine that if we had better infrastructure for propane in the Midwest, that would help, but that’s easier said than done,” said Adam Steffes, director of energy, AgPlus Cooperative, based in Marshall. “You can have all the storage for your company that you want, but if I can’t get the propane in, it won’t do us any good.”

The Executive Order remains in effect for 30 days or until the direct assistance has ended, whichever occurs first.

Did you like this article?

Share this post with your friends!