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Letter: A perfect storm of propane

For the last several years there have been some troubling issues with propane and anhydrous ammonia availability and distribution in Minnesota. This came to a head last year when a perfect storm of propane demand hit the state.

Minnesota is the third-largest producer of soybeans in the United States, and it ranks No. 4 in corn production. Last year, many farmers were blessed with a record crop, but with that good news came some challenges relating to higher levels of crop moisture than normal.

The cold and wet weather in October hampered the development, maturity and natural drying of our corn and soybeans in the fields and forced a later harvest. Of course, this higher-than-usual moisture content in corn required a much higher use of mechanical drying of the record crop, and for the first time in its history, many of our soybeans needed to be dried.

These factors lead to a perfect storm of demand for propane in our state and surrounding areas.

The terminal and pipeline infrastructure in Minnesota and surrounding areas was overwhelmed by this perfect storm. This forced the distributors of propane to hire additional truckers and to travel much further to access their supplies. The increased transportation costs forced the distributors to raise the price of propane. This increased not only the cost of crop drying, but also the price of home heat for the many areas of the state dependent on propane as an energy source.

I believe we have a 1940s supply infrastructure trying to service a 21st century industry. The national average crop yields have been increasing for many years. According to many experts the rate of increase will continue even more rapidly in the next few years, so we need to take steps now to position our state for this increased agriculture productivity.

I have introduced HF3348 to require the Department of Agriculture and the Office of Energy to analyze the current propane and anhydrous ammonia infrastructure. The bill looks to the future to anticipate what our demand will be ten years from now.

If infrastructure improvements are needed they will take some time to implement, and will also require large amounts of funds. We are under tremendous economic pressures now, but we must also recognize that long term issues face us. The time to act is now.