Propane shortage in Iowa weighs on remaining corn harvest

Farmers rely on propane to fuel large grain dryers

With more than $1 billion worth of corn yet to be harvested, Iowa farmers have been dealing with a shortage of propane needed to fuel their grain dryers.

Corn must be dried until the moisture content is no more than 15 percent of the kernel weight. Otherwise, farmers risk their harvest developing mold or rotting in storage bins.

"The whole upper Midwest is harvesting corn at the same time, and because it's wet, there's a whole lot of drying going on," said Deb Grooms, executive director of the Iowa Propane Gas Association in Des Moines. "The pipelines can only bring so much up at once.

"This has been going on for about three weeks with the terminals very busy through the week and activity slowing on weekends. We've had a lot of trucks coming into Iowa from all over the nation to deliver propane where it is needed.

Grooms added that the crisis appears to be over, but there's still wet corn that needs to be harvested.

Farmers rely on propane to fuel their large grain dryers because natural gas pipelines typically don't extend to farms. They can pay an elevator to dry their corn using natural gas-fueled dryers, but that will effectively reduce how much they will get for their crop.

About 88 percent of Iowa's corn crop was harvested through Sunday, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service. High moisture corn was a concern for farmers with fields left to be harvested.

Above normal precipitation during the week improved soil moisture levels, but added to concerns about the moisture content of corn in the fields.

Topsoil moisture levels were rated 10 percent very short, 27 percent short, 61 percent adequate and 2 percent surplus. Subsoil moisture levels were rated 23 percent very short, 36 percent short, 40 percent adequate and 1 percent surplus.

Grain movement from farm to elevator was rated 51 percent moderate to heavy. Ninety-five percent of Iowa reported adequate or surplus off-farm grain storage availability and 85 percent reported adequate or surplus on-farm grain storage availability.

"Farmers are trying to wrap up harvest and complete additional fall field work, including tillage, fertilizer applications and conservation practice construction," said Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey.

Iowa farmers harvested 13 percent of their corn for grain or seed during the week that ended on Sunday. Soybean harvest was 98 percent complete, 3 days ahead of normal.

Hay supplies were considered 14 percent short, 77 percent adequate, and 9 percent surplus across Iowa with more than 90 percent rated in fair to good condition.

At Dyersville Sales, 514 tons of hay was sold at the auction on Nov. 6. Top price on square bales was $210 per ton. The top price on third crop of round bales with a relative feed value of 129 stored outside was $197.50 per ton.

At the Fort Atkinson Hay Auction on Nov. 6, 26 consignors offered 28 loads of hay for sale. Top price on big square bales was $280 per ton and a load of small square bales sold for $275 per ton.

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