Mark Leitman sums it up best when he notes that the 2013 planting season was the latest since 1984, and one of the largest corn crops planted. "That's an early indication of the kind of drying potential that may be needed," says Leitman, who is with the Propane Education and Research Council.
The group, which is a kind of checkoff for propane, works to promote research and development of better ways to use propane. It's also the same group that is incentivizing purchase of more efficient grain dryers in a program with GSI and Mathews Company.
"The key thing for a grower is to talk to the local propane provider - and many farmers have already done this - to be prepared," Leitman says. He notes there's an abundant supply of propane out there, the challenge this fall - if harvested grain needs a lot of drying - will be having the propane in the right place.
Leitman notes that upgrading equipment is important since there are more efficient grain drying systems out there that maximize the efficiency of this energy resource in getting the crop in shape. "You can get a system with a lower cost of drying per bushel, and having a dryer mitigates your risk at harvest," he notes. That risk includes the concept of leaving grain to dry in the field, which can lead to increased harvest losses and quality problems too.
As for those new dryers he talks about? "It depends on the dryer you're replacing, but new dryers are 30 to 50% more efficient than older models," Leitman notes. "They offer a cleaner, more complete burn getting all the energy from the propane."
Dealing with logistics
But what about this fall? John Duchscherer, director, propane sales and marketing, CHS Inc., notes that customers are thinking about harvest logistics already. "Two years ago we had late corn on a wider range of geography than today," he recalls. "People were aggressive with booking supply that year, and it turned dry in the latter half of August and they didn't need the grain dryer."
That's the challenge farmers face this season, and the supply industry is aware of the challenge, Duchscherer says. CHS Inc., is prepping for harvest to have supply available. "We're expanding a couple rail terminal arrangements to handle more rail cars - it's too early to make a determination on what we'll need - but we're posturing for it; we're trying to keep an eye on supply."
The last big crunch year for propane delivery - 2009 - tested the delivery system, Duschscherer recalls. He notes the system performed well - even though keeping up was a challenge. "We moved more that year than we ever had and the systems performed as well as could be expected," he notes.
For some growers the answer is to invest in propane now to have a tank on hand if that corn needs drying. The other challenge is to right-size your propane tank. He explains it should be the size needed to provide energy to that dryer for 24 hours. "The speed at which harvest takes place these days, growers need more propane in a shorter period of time," he says. "That really stresses the system."
Those more efficient driers that Leitman talks about can also dry more grain too, which stresses the propane supply delivery chain.
Balancing the idea of investing in a tank full of propane for the potential crunch of a wet-corn harvest versus betting on a dry fall is part of the harvest challenge. "Farmers are optimizing better with bigger tanks, they have to keep in mind that sometimes the propane they need could be coming a long distance," Duchscherer says.
It's time to talk to your supplier about plans in case you'll need propane this fall. And if you're in the market for a new dryer, that incentive from PERC may help. You can learn more at agpropane.com.