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Propane supply concerns ease, corn harvest closes

Propane for drying corn on the Mike Prochnow farmstead south of Hankinson, N.D., was in short supply a month ago. The family was able to truck propane from Grand Island, Neb., and finished drying on Nov. 19. Photo taken Nov. 15, 2013, southeast of Hankinson, N.D. (Forum News Service/Agweek/Mikkel Pates)(EMBARGO TO NOV. 26, 2013, 1 A.M.)

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

Elevator operators and farmers throughout the region report that 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 on Nov. 18, according to a National Agricultural Statistics Service official.

Warren Boughton, in energy sales with Dakota Plains Cooperative, based in Valley City, says drying season was pretty much wrapped up the week of Nov. 18. 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 cooperative 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 expected. He finished grain drying on Nov. 19.

Prochnow and his father and brother farm together. He says propane wasn't available because he hadn't ordered it in advance under a contract.

The shortage led to some fast footwork.

Without the propane, Prochnow shifted to harvesting a few soybeans. Meanwhile, he solved the problem. Prochnow and a neighbor contracted with Bosselman Energy of Nebraska 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 southeast North Dakota loads.

And a bonus: Prochnow says he was able to get the propane from Nebraska at a 7 to 10-cent discount to local levels. Prochnow says the moisture levels averaged about 23 percent.

Getting what they need

Ken Hellevang, a North Dakota State University Extension Service agricultural engineer who specializes in grain storage and drying techniques, says that while he only gets "bits and pieces" of the situation, it's his impression that "most of the guys are getting the propane they need."

He says a lot of farmers were harvesting corn at 18 percent 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 over $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 propane shortages and partly because of available storage. 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.Copyright 2013 Forum News Service