Late harvest turns up flame on propane supplies

Steve Tarter

This year's late harvest did more than take up area farmers' time in the field.

It also took most of the propane.

"Availability of propane is better than it was," said Randy Miller, director of propane operations for Bloomington-based Growmark.

"The major pipelines went off allocation on Dec. 1. Although some parts of the state have a ways to go, we seem to be over the biggest rush," he said.

The rush for propane was caused by the need to dry all the wet corn that farmers were finally able to bring in from their fields in November.

Monday's crop report from the Illinois Department of Agriculture noted that 85 percent of the state's corn crop had been harvested. Over the past five years, 100 percent of the Illinois corn crop has been harvested by now.

As more of the state's grain gets dried, energy cooperatives such as Bloomington's Evergreen FS are shifting their focus to customers who use propane to heat their homes, said manager Don Herring, who serves customers in McLean, Livingston and Woodford counties.

"We're still moving quite a bit (of propane) for grain drying, but that use is starting to wind down," he said.

Propane prices are up but the increase is a seasonal adjustment, said Herring. "I actually thought prices would be higher," he said.

Miller described propane price increases as "marginal" despite record demands this fall, adding supplies are expected to be available for the winter.

"A lot depends on the weather but I see no cause for alarm in the home heating season. Last year we had a lot of grain drying followed by a cold winter and the supply was adequate," said Miller.

"Timing is everything. Now that the demand for grain drying is easing, typically home heating tanks are being filled now," he said.

While natural gas remains the home heating fuel of choice in most of central Illinois, propane has replaced fuel oil in many rural areas, said Miller.

"Propane has become the fuel of choice in rural areas because it's cleaner. You don't have that fuel-oil smell," he said.

Steve Tarter can be reached at (309) 686-3260 or starter@pjstar.com.