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Prepare for propanePrepare for propane

With grain drying, weather is always the wild card, but experts say supply lines are better prepared than ever for a big fall drying season.

Holly Spangler

August 16, 2019

3 Min Read
grain bin and dryer
STEADY: Suppliers are geared up for big propane demand this fall, but they know weather is the real wild card in determining how much grain drying Midwest farmers will have to do. Holly Spangler

As the 2019 harvest draws near, farmers across the Midwest are shifting their thoughts back to 2009 — and to all the grain they had to dry. The situation today begs a singular question: What’s going to happen this fall?

Kyle Fecht, propane supply manager for Growmark, predicts stable propane prices but acknowledges the weather wild card.

“I think prices will be steady until we get a real indication of what the corn crop is like, and a better idea of the weather forecast,” Fecht explains.

“The biggest risk for farmers is wet corn, which will increase demand. If the extended forecast starts to point to a cooler-than-normal winter, we could see propane prices tick up.”

If Mother Nature throws the ultimate wild card — an early frost — corn could be stunted, and that would mean drying a lot more crop. How big is the crop? No one knows that either, especially in the wake of USDA’s August crop report. As Fecht points out, at the end of the day, the potential for drying all comes back to weather.

And the best-case scenario includes a warm September. “September typically makes or breaks a corn drying season. If it’s sunny and windy, corn can dry a point a day,” Fecht says.

Supply and demand

Should a sunny September not happen, the good news is that propane inventories in the Growmark system, which blankets much of the Midwest, are as high or higher than they were at this time last year. So, too, is the ability to distribute propane. Fecht says Growmark’s purchase of a trucking firm lets it operate around 150 trucks for distribution.

Fecht says their concern is always their ability to address capacity issues, such as during last winter’s polar vortex. “Since the last polar vortex, we are now prepared to supply, move and distribute propane inventory faster than ever before,” he says.

Growmark is also preparing by converting some of its 300 pressure vessels to propane, and strategically locating the trucks to manage expected demand. Growmark has also bought several terminals across the Midwest:

  • Mason City, Iowa (rail)

  • Moravia, Iowa (rail)

  • Canton, S.D. (rail)

  • Paulding, Ohio (rail)

  • Plattsburg, Mo. (pipeline terminal)

  • New Hampton, Iowa (large aboveground storage)

So while pipelines haven’t gotten bigger, the aforementioned railroad supply areas will help Growmark be better prepared for higher propane demand, through both fall and winter.

Fecht also points out that the entire U.S. propane business has changed over the past decade or so. Ten to 15 years ago, propane was tied to crude and the refinery system. Today, the whole industry has shifted to shale gas and oil plays to the point that the U.S. is now a large, growing, exporter of propane.

In terms of prices, he says they’ve seen some large market carry. Fecht believes most people are sitting with full propane tanks — and if you aren’t, you should be.

“Check tanks now and make sure they’re full,” Fecht says. “Prices are good now, and it’s a good time to take advantage, before any demand picks up.”

About the Author(s)

Holly Spangler

Senior Editor, Prairie Farmer, Farm Progress

Holly Spangler has covered Illinois agriculture for more than two decades, bringing meaningful production agriculture experience to the magazine’s coverage. She currently serves as editor of Prairie Farmer magazine and Executive Editor for Farm Progress, managing editorial staff at six magazines throughout the eastern Corn Belt. She began her career with Prairie Farmer just before graduating from the University of Illinois in agricultural communications.

An award-winning writer and photographer, Holly is past president of the American Agricultural Editors Association. In 2015, she became only the 10th U.S. agricultural journalist to earn the Writer of Merit designation and is a five-time winner of the top writing award for editorial opinion in U.S. agriculture. She was named an AAEA Master Writer in 2005. In 2011, Holly was one of 10 recipients worldwide to receive the IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Ag Journalism award. She currently serves on the Illinois Fairgrounds Foundation, the U of I Agricultural Communications Advisory committee, and is an advisory board member for the U of I College of ACES Research Station at Monmouth. Her work in agricultural media has been recognized by the Illinois Soybean Association, Illinois Corn, Illinois Council on Agricultural Education and MidAmerica Croplife Association.

Holly and her husband, John, farm in western Illinois where they raise corn, soybeans and beef cattle on 2,500 acres. Their operation includes 125 head of commercial cows in a cow/calf operation. The family farm includes John’s parents and their three children.

Holly frequently speaks to a variety of groups and organizations, sharing the heart, soul and science of agriculture. She and her husband are active in state and local farm organizations. They serve with their local 4-H and FFA programs, their school district, and are active in their church's youth and music ministries.

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