Ag businesses, farmers, rural residents and other Iowans who use propane should take steps to ensure adequate propane supplies this fall and winter.
“It is encouraging that propane inventories in the Midwest are within the five-year average and have steadily increased over the summer,” says Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey. “But it is important for users to be prepared. Ensuring adequate supplies on hand now can help avoid any possible unforeseen spikes in demand later this year.”
The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports propane production at 1.85 million barrels per day as of Aug.18. That’s up from 1.7 million barrels per day a year ago. EIA reports that U.S. propane stocks as of Aug. 18 are at 72.2 million barrels, compared to 96.1 million barrels a year ago. Lower supply levels are attributed primarily to export pressures.
Price of propane tad higher this year
IDALS’ most recent price report for the state shows the average price at $1.13 per gallon. Last year’s propane price at this time of year averaged 95 cents per gallon.
Actions that farmers and other propane users can take now to prepare for this fall and winter include:
• ensuring propane supplies for grain drying, livestock facilities, homes and machine sheds are full going into the fall season
• taking advantage of early buy and booking programs
• expanding on-site capacity at facilities and homes
• communicating early and regularly with propane suppliers
Steady demand for grain drying
According to the Aug. 27 USDA National Ag Statistics Service’s Iowa Crop Progress & Condition Report, 41% of the state’s corn crop has reached the dent stage, eight days behind last year and four days behind the five-year average. The USDA Crop Production Report forecasts Iowa corn production at 2.46 billion bushels for 2017, which would be the third-highest yield and production on record behind 2016 and 2015, respectively. The slightly later crop maturity this year, coupled with a forecasted high crop yield, will likely mean a steady demand for propane use for grain drying throughout the fall.
The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship continues to reach out and work with a number of Iowa ag organizations and the Iowa Propane Gas Association. Northey encourages IPGA to work with their members and partners to continue to prepare to meet propane demands this fall and winter.
Letting corn dry in field
Should you let corn stand in the field to dry naturally, and try to save some money on artificial drying and propane? Or is the risk of yield loss too great?
Mark Hanna, Iowa State University Extension ag engineer, says whether to let corn stand in the field to dry, or to go ahead and harvest the corn and dry it artificially in a bin is a perennial question. “Now, in early September, it’s still too early to estimate harvest field conditions for this fall,” he notes.
Last year, a hot, dry spell in mid-October sped up field drying of corn from the typical pace of approximately a quarter point of moisture per day to nearly a full point of drying per day. Hanna says farmers are wise to be prepared to dry corn artificially in the bin if and when necessary, and assess the grain moisture situation as harvest progresses. Farmers who have a lot of acres to harvest will probably harvest when they can, regardless of corn moisture content.
Drying systems gain efficiency
“If corn is standing well in the field and you can afford to wait to harvest it, you certainly can save on propane if field drying conditions are favorable,” he notes. “It also depends on the type of grain drying system you have on your farm. The new systems are more efficient. Heat recovery systems are common with the newer grain drying equipment.”
No matter what grain drying system you have, keep the drying equipment clean for maximum efficiency, he advises. Airflow in a drying system is important. Be sure to clean the screens on drying equipment; remove the fines that accumulate. Some farmers use a grain cleaner to remove fines and dirt from grain at harvest.
Ensure dryer operating efficiently
To further control grain drying costs, check the grain moisture sensors in your on-farm drying and storage system. Compare grain moisture readings in your bin to the grain moisture readings you get on the same samples of corn you take to a grain elevator for a test. That will give you an idea of your grain moisture tester’s or sensor’s accuracy, notes Hanna.
Also, keep in mind that drying grain at a lower temperature within the recommended range for the dryer is another way you can increase fuel efficiency. Natural air or low-temperature drying systems are less common with the newer, high-capacity drying systems, but they require less energy.