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Propane demand for grain dryers surges amidst wet harvest

Use is 2-1/2 times higher than normal as producers struggle to dry their high-moisture grain

This year’s wet harvest is driving up demand for propane needed to run grain dryers.

“Normally the propane sector is totally able to meet the demand but this year, the demand is 2-1/2 times what it usually is in the fall,” said Nathalie St-Pierre, president of the Canadian Propane Association.

“There’s a lot of pressure on the system, but it’s moving.”

In normal years, propane distributors have no problem keeping up to farmer demands for propane, but this year’s conditions have been far from normal. Across Alberta, only about half of the major crops have been harvested as of Oct. 15, and the crops that are coming off are high in moisture as a result of back-to-back snowstorms in much of the province.

“There have been some extreme weather conditions, and farmers have been challenged in getting the crops off and making sure the quality is high,” said St-Pierre. “This is a pretty unique combination of different factors.”

All three Prairie provinces are facing that same pressure, but the demand in some areas of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba are far exceeding the distribution capacity for the propane industry. That’s causing delivery delays and headaches for farmers, particularly around Edmonton and northeast Alberta, said St-Pierre.

But there’s no lack of propane — just distribution capacity, she added.

“It’s more about getting it to where you want it,” she said. “The impediments are more around things like finding truck drivers if you want to increase your delivery capacity.”

Drivers are already working at capacity in terms of provincial regulations around hours of work. So in order to ramp up distribution capacity, additional drivers will need to be hired and trained.

“Safety is paramount when you’re driving a truck with propane and transferring propane,” she said.

The Canadian Propane Association is also in discussions with the provincial governments to determine whether the regulations around how long a driver can be on the road can be removed temporarily to deal with the surge in demand.

“When we have truck drivers who have to wait in line to get their trucks filled, they’re not really on the road,” said St-Pierre. “So in some cases, there have been times when provincial governments would lift that restriction to make sure the truck drivers are able to maintain a good distribution capacity.”

Those types of situations are evaluated on a case-by-case basis, she said.

“We are discussing with the different governments to make sure those solutions are on the table if they’re required.”

At this point, though, all producers can do is wait for the backlog to clear itself out, said St-Pierre.

“The propane industry is working very hard to make sure it’s delivering the product,” she said. “It’s a very unique situation. In the course of normal crop years, there’s no issue at all.”

About the author

Reporter

Jennifer Blair is a Red Deer-based reporter with a post-secondary education in professional writing and nearly 10 years of experience in corporate communications, policy development, and journalism. She's spent half of her career telling stories about an industry she loves for an audience she admires--the farmers who work every day to build a better agriculture industry in Alberta.

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