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Propane supplies tighten, prompt emergency order

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Minnesota's later and wetter corn crop has put more pressure on propane supplies used to fuel dryers. That shortage led Gov. Mark Dayton to issue an emergency order Wednesday that lifts some restrictions on drivers transporting propane. 

The USDA reported this week that corn harvested in Minnesota is at 21 percent moisture.  Last year it was at 13 percent. The higher-moisture corn requires more drying by farmers, much of which is fueled by propane that's in shorter supply right now.  

Minnesota Department of Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson said one factor in the shortage is that a pipeline that formerly carried propane to Minnesota is now switching to carrying light condensates associated with oil shale. 

The Cochin pipeline, which is owned by Kinder Morgan, already stopped transporting propane in half their pipeline in April. 

"That literally cut the supply of liquid propane to west-central part of Minnesota in half," Frederickson said.  

The final half of the propane capacity from the pipeline is expected to be gone by March 2014, resulting in 120 million fewer gallons of propane in Minnesota's market each year, according to an analysis by Harvest Land Cooperative of Morgan, Minn. 

In order to bring more propane to the state to dry corn, Gov. Dayton on Wednesday lifted restrictions on drivers that require them to get off the road to rest for a certain number of hours. 

"This makes it possible for those propane suppliers to be able to move and cut the time that they have to wait and get product back home," Frederickson said. "Unfortunately, they're having to drive a long distance to get a load right now." 

As of the start of this week, only 19 percent of Minnesota corn was harvested, according to statistics from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Last year at this time, farmers had already harvested 95 percent of corn in their fields. 

Adam Czech of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association said much of the state's corn was planted later this year due to the weather. 

"It got off to a slow, wet, cold start in the spring," Czech said. "Because of that late start and a really hot dry spell that hit later in the summer, the corn harvest is behind a bit." 

Czech said it appears that many farmers have chosen to harvest soybeans before corn this year. Unless the weather takes another unexpected shift, he expects farmers to finish their harvest. 

"We are behind last year's pace, but last year's pace was kind of an anomaly," Czech said. "As long as we don't get frozen out here with some really nasty, cold, snowy freezing sort of weather, we should be fine."  

Both Frederickson and Czech expect the amount of corn harvested in the state to increase dramatically in the coming weeks.