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"Perfect storm" fuels farmer frustrations

Article cover photo
Dave Walton, treasurer of the ISA's board of directors, says inadequate propane supplies and grain storage options are added challenges on an already frustrating year. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association)

By Bethany Baratta, ISA senior writer

Iowa farmers are struggling to keep reliable, adequate supplies of propane used for drying grain. As of Nov. 3, Iowa farmers still had 20% of the state’s soybean crop left to harvest and 57% of its corn crop, according to the Iowa Crop Progress and Condition report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service.

It comes in a year where wet crops are the norm.

“It’s the perfect storm,” says Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) District 2 Director April Hemmes of Hampton. “We had a late start to planting, some farmers planted a full-season hybrid for better yields, then it stayed wet. Now when it comes time to harvest, temps are 10 degrees below what we typically have.”

Crops aren’t drying down adequately, creating a stronger demand for propane to help mechanically dry down grain.

Infrastructure inadequate

Wet grain, and increased propane demand from livestock farmers during the state’s first snowfall of the season last week, has been too much for propane suppliers. It goes back to aging propane infrastructure, which worked well in the 1960s with lower-yielding corn and smaller livestock farms and businesses. But it doesn’t work today, says Iowa State Senator Annette Sweeney from Alden.

“There is plenty of liquid propane; it’s just getting it here is the problem,’ Sweeney said.

Hemmes said there are reports from some farmers in northern Iowa who were forced to idle harvest because propane wasn’t available—some farmers waited upwards of 1 week before they were able to secure some gallons.

“This is my 34th fall, and I’ve never seen it like this,” Hemmes said. “I’ve been through some late falls, but I’ve never seen a propane shortage like this.”

Hemmes pre-booked her propane needs earlier this summer, but even she was shorted.

Much of the propane used in Iowa comes out of Kansas, Sweeney said. By law, homeowners and livestock farms are top priority when it comes to propane allocation. Grain farmers are third in line. Sweeney said Iowa lacks propane storage capacity necessary to keep up with farmers’ increased use-especially during years of excessive moisture.

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds signed a proclamation temporarily suspending certain regulatory provisions regarding hours of service for the delivery of propane.

The proclamation went into effect Nov. 1. It expires at midnight on Nov. 30.

The proclamation doesn’t solve the supply issue, Sweeney said. Still, it relaxes the provisions to allow propane delivery drivers to operate after spending several hours in line waiting for their fill.

ISA District 6 Director Dave Walton of Wilton said had been allotted enough propane for 24 hours, but it’s questionable whether he will be able to get more after that. With corn hovering around 28% moisture and soybeans around 15%, he’s facing additional concerns about grain storage.

Grain elevators and merchandisers in the area have announced they could reject loads of soybeans over 15% moisture. Walton suspects elevators are making this decision because there isn’t enough low-moisture grain to blend with higher moisture loads.

Walton said he’s shuffling around his grain—and harvest plans—to accommodate short propane supplies and limited storage options.

“This will slow down corn harvest pretty significantly, but we don’t have another option,” Walton said.

Contact Bethany Baratta at

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