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Propane shortage impacting corn harvest

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Parts of the Upper Midwest are experiencing temporary shortages of propane (LP) gas to dry the corn that is currently being harvested. Propane inventories are very tight at many of the terminals in southern Minnesota, resulting in limited availability to local cooperatives, and ultimately to farm operators, in some areas. The tight propane situation is being monitored very closely by the Minnesota Grain and Feed Association (MGFA), which represents most of the grain elevators in the state.

According to the MGFA, the propane shortage problem is more severe in southern Minnesota, due to the high amount of corn currently being harvested at this time. Some propane terminals have no free-stock gallons of propane available, while other terminals are only loading two or three trucks of LP per hour. A large commercial corn dryer at a grain elevator that is drying corn at full capacity will utilize a semi load of propane in about four hours. For many cooperatives, income from commercial grain drying, along with propane sales to farm operators, is a big part of their income for a given year.

Some cooperatives are attempting to get propane supplies from other states, such as Kansas and Nebraska, to meet their propane needs; however, the added transportation costs for the LP gas will be passed on to the farmers purchasing the drying gas. Governor Dayton has issued an executive order to temporarily relax daily hour restrictions on truckers transporting propane gas, in order to transport the needed LP supplies more quickly, but this will still not address supply shortages. The shortages of propane gas for corn drying comes at the same time that LP demand is increasing for 2013 home heating needs, which is also earlier this year due to the extended cool weather pattern in October.

As we head into November, growers become more concerned with getting corn harvest completed before winter conditions set in. Most of the corn currently being harvested in many areas is still at 18-26% moisture, as a result of later-than-normal planting last spring. The corn moisture content has not dropped significantly since early October, due to the extended cool, damp weather pattern across the region. Corn should be dried to about 15-16% moisture before going into an on-farm grain bin for safe storage until next spring or summer.

According to University research, corn at a moisture content of 22%, and a grain temperature of 50° F, can be stored for approximately 30 days without damage, provided there is an aeration system in place to move air through the corn. At a grain temperature of 40°, the allowable storage time increases to approximately 60 days at 22% grain moisture content, and to about 140 days at 19% moisture. However, the allowable storage time drops to only 12 days at a moisture content of 26% moisture and a grain temperature of 50° and to 35 days at a temperature of 40° F. Obviously, if the propane shortage continues, this could become a serious issue in southeast Minnesota, where harvest is more delayed and corn moisture contents are higher. 

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