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More Truckers Take Aim at Midwest Propane Storage

October 30, 2013
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A major distributor of propane in the Midwest says it is bringing in truckers from around the country to try to tackle a shortage of the gas in the region.

Governors from states across the Midwest including North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota also have signed executive orders extending operating hours for propane truckers.

The Kinder Morgan company, which owns and operates the Cochin Pipeline that brings propane from Canada to the Midwest, said it has more than tripled the pipeline's output over the past month.

Many farmers and grain elevators use propane to dry crops that come off the field too wet to store properly. Peak harvesting times usually are staggered throughout the Midwest, but that didn't happen this year, CHS Inc. propane marketing manager Matt Kumm told The Forum.

"The infrastructure is not built to handle that extreme of a demand over such a short time period," he said.

A delayed start to the planting season, combined with September and October rains, increased propane demand that local suppliers weren't prepared to meet, said Tom Lilja, executive director of the North Dakota Corn Growers Association. Other factors include a larger corn crop this year and industry experts telling farmers earlier this year not to lock into propane contracts, citing potential price drops, he said.

"The problem with grain drying is that we have a large use over a relatively short time," said Ken Hellevang, an agricultural engineer with the North Dakota State University Extension Service. "It really does put some pressure on having propane delivered on a timely basis."

If the shortage continues, farmers might be forced to pick between two undesirable options — storing wet crops and putting them at risk for spoilage, or leaving them in the field, hoping more propane comes in before the crops are damaged by freezing weather.

"You don't know what another week or two will do as far as weather goes," Hellevang said. "The number of harvest days is always a big unknown."

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