Propane suppliers hope to avoid another shortage

Farm Forum

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) – Minnesota officials and propane suppliers say they’re better prepared to avoid repeating the shortages that hit much of the Midwest last winter.

Propane supply and demand are always at the whims of weather, but last year’s one-two punch of a wet fall harvest that used up more fuel and a brutally cold winter created one of the worst shortages in recent memory.

With another cold winter approaching, Gov. Mark Dayton said he’s confident the state has taken steps to ensure Minnesota residents have access to propane. Several propane storage facilities in the region have increased capacity, and more farmers and homeowners have filled up their fuel supplies early.

“We’re in as good of shape as we could be today,” Dayton said after meeting with industry officials.

But the state’s efforts to ensure adequate fuel supplies could be hindered by a key pipeline that’s no longer shipping propane into Minnesota. The Cochin pipeline, which once supplied about 40 percent of Minnesota’s propane, was switched over in the spring to move petroleum products into Canada.

Dayton said filling that gap is one of his top concerns. To help, the state will lean on railroads, which Dayton has pressed to address months of backlogs that have hit farmers with delays.

“There’s no question the rail transport system in this state is very seriously overextended,” the governor said. “We’re going to be on them very rigorously to find out what their situation is, to monitor what they’re doing.”

Dayton said the state will continue meeting with industry officials and monitoring propane supplies as winter approaches.

The late start to last year’s planting season pushed harvest back into a wet fall, requiring more of the fuel to dry out corn and other grains. The cold winter drove up propane demand to heat more than 200,000 Minnesotans’ homes, raising prices and making supply scarce.

A wet spring pushed back planting this year too, Minnesota Corn Growers Association spokesman Adam Czech said. Despite the late start, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is projecting a record corn crop in Minnesota – a crop that may need plenty of propane for drying. Farmers can use more than 1,000 gallons of propane daily to dry their crop.

The association started warning farmers in June to stock up on propane.

The issues “are just kind of piling on top of each other, and it adds up to propane issues,” Czech said.