In contrast to a year ago, the propane supply in Iowa is ample this fall and is expected to stay abundant going into winter. This is due in large part to dry weather conditions this year that let corn dry down naturally in fields before harvest, limiting the need to run grain dryers.
“Corn is drying down in the field and propane supplies have not been an issue this year like they were last fall,” according to a recent statement issued by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. In 2019, the combination of a high-moisture corn harvest and earlier-than-normal onset of cold weather resulted in increased demand for propane for dryers and home heating, and was in short supply.
Dry harvest weather helps
“Last fall’s weather was very wet and very cold,” says Deb Grooms, CEO of the Iowa Propane Gas Association. “2020 is a totally different type of year. Currently, propane supplies look good as we head into winter.”
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the national propane inventory as of mid-October was 98.3 million barrels, which is about a 90-day supply. The inventory is up from 95.3 million barrels at the same time last year. “However, there are still challenges to be mindful of as we head into winter,” Grooms says.
As always, if winter turns out to be colder or longer than usual, it will require more propane to heat homes and livestock barns, putting extra demand on gas supplies. Also, railroad systems north of Iowa have experienced some slowdowns this fall, which means the pipelines passing through Iowa may be needed to supply other regions, limiting what Iowa-based propane suppliers can take out of the pipeline system. “But as of now, the supply is holding strong,” she notes.
Better equipped to respond
One positive outcome from last year’s propane supply and transportation crunch and related issues has been the formation of an industry and government working group. The group meets to keep tabs on the propane situation and makes plans for addressing the developing issues that may arise.
“This propane stakeholders’ group has been very helpful,” Grooms says. “We’ve all gotten to know each other very well, and we share information. We feel like we’re better equipped to respond next time such issues come up.”
Propane supply was at a premium in the fall of 2019, recalls Mike Gerst, propane manager for Farmers Co-op Association at Richland in southeast Iowa. Getting the product to the right locations proved to be difficult, causing shortages, and when it finally came into Iowa via the pipelines, there were long lines of delivery trucks waiting to fill up at LP-gas terminals.
Last year’s issues for drying crops in the bin were aggravated as the harvest of late corn plantings coincided with the onset of winter temperatures and increased home demand for propane. That led to wet corn sitting in fields as grain dryers were not able to run.
In 2020, the COVID-19 situation has thrown many industries into a frenzy, with shortages occurring for many products. “But propane hasn’t had to deal with the same issues this fall,” Gerst says. “We haven’t had any of the propane problems we had last year as far as supply and delivery.”
For more information, visit the Iowa Propane Gas Association at iaspropane.org.