Grain dryer

Propane supply was at a premium in the fall of 2019. Getting the product to the right locations proved to be difficult, causing shortages and, when it finally came in, long lines for many plants.

In 2020, COVID-19 has thrown many industries into a frenzy, with shortages for many products, but propane shouldn’t be dealing with the same issues this season.

“That’s not going to happen,” Mike Gerst, propane manager for Farmers Coop Association in Richland, Iowa, said. “I don’t think we’ll have any of the problems we had last year as far as delivery.”

Gerst said there hasn’t been much they’ve needed to change about their operation this year after the struggles of 2019. He called it a “perfect storm” of events that led to the shortage of propane around the Midwest.

Last year’s issues for crop drying came as late plantings coincided with winter storms and typical home demand for propane. That led to wet corn sitting in fields as grain dryers weren’t able to run.

As much of the Midwest harvested in a hurry to avoid the frosts, many ag retailers couldn’t keep up with the drastic increase of demand. While farmers waited for propane, retailers were in the same boat, waiting for the supply to reach many terminals in the Midwest.

After living day-to-day on propane last year, Gerst is looking forward to a more efficient 2020.

“It will be a normal dryer season this fall,” Gerst said. “Usually we have a hard pace at the beginning, but as the year goes along, the corn will dry down and propane usage will dry up quickly.”

While the hope is for crops to dry in the field, it could be hit and miss depending on location, northeast Iowa farmer Bob Hemesath said. Late-season rains slowed maturity down for his Decorah area farm, and if more moisture comes into the forecast, it could increase the need for drying costs.

“It just depends on the weather and how much field dry down we get,” Hemesath said. “The moisture is going to vary a lot across the different soil types so that can make it harder to get consistent drying in that dryer.”

Davenport, Iowa, farmer Robb Ewoldt said he doesn’t anticipate any drying issues this season on his farm. The main concern he has heard is issues with grain quality this year after hail storms and strong winds from the August derecho have damaged many crops in his area.

“We didn’t get hit by the wind,” he said, “but I have heard a lot of quality issues in both corn and beans.”

Despite late rains in mid-September, the dry weather all summer long should help farmers keep costs down overall, Gerst said.

“For the dealer, it might be a poor year,” he said. “But for the farmer, that’ll be good. I don’t think they’ll need much drying this year.”

However, Hemesath said he knows the supply could change on a dime if weather doesn’t cooperate. With possible frosts being forecasted for early October, that could alter the need quickly.

“So much depends on the weather,” he said. “If the harvest goes late, we run into home heating season and LP supplies could get pressured.”