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Dayton acts to end propane delivery issues

Members of Minnesota's propane industry gather with Gov. Mark Dayton on Jan. 28, 2014, to discuss the situtation of high prices and short availability of the fuel. State leaders say such action is not needed in 2017. Don Davis / Forum News Service1 / 2
Propane in tanks such as this near Ellendale, N.D., shown in 2014, is being used to fuel grain driers throughout the Upper Midwest. A propane shortage for the winter of 2017-2018 is reported, but not as bad as one in the winter of 2013-2014. Mikkel Pates / Forum News Service2 / 2

ST. PAUL—Gov. Mark Dayton's action to ease problems that farmers report of getting propane brings back memories of the 2013-14 winter in which the gas was in short supply, but early indications are that this winter will not be as bad.

Dayton issued an executive order this week to provide emergency relief to farmers who are having a tough time getting propane and diesel fuel delivered. The order allows trucking companies to extend their hours for the next month, although drivers cannot work longer hours than the law allows.

The order comes after farmers and agriculture organizations sought relief.

"Our cool, wet harvest season is putting a crunch on propane delivery for both farmers who need to dry their crops and families who use propane to heat their homes," said Rep. Paul Anderson of Starbuck, chairman of the state House Agriculture Policy Committee. "This executive order will be helpful in ensuring people have access to propane this fall and credit goes to all those who worked so hard to get this done."

State Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman said Dayton's order addresses "truck driver supply, not propane supply."

Rothman said the Midwest propane supply is at or above the five-year level. The region's supply has been rising the past two months, he added.

The commissioner said that his department "works with industry to closely monitor propane supplies throughout the year, especially in the fall and winter, and take appropriate actions as needed to ensure that propane is available for agricultural and home heating purposes."

Anderson and other rural Republicans on Wednesday, Nov. 1, sent Dayton a letter requesting the executive order.

A major cause of the propane delivery delay is because of high demand for drying corn. Weather has postponed harvest, creating a greater demand in a short period of time.

"Much of the corn is still in the fields and farmers will be using large amounts of propane to dry their crops," Rep. Jeff Howe of Rockville said.

On top of that, this week's colder temperatures have forced families who rely on propane to use their furnaces.

Dayton's order is meant to take care of what is expected to be a short-term problem.

"This could help stave off a crisis, ensuring folks can heat their homes and farmers can dry their grain," Rep. Deb Kiel of Crookston said. Reports have been received that some propane haulers have had to wait in line up to six hours to receive supplies. Since the same companies and drivers often haul diesel fuel, that, too, is moving slower than normal. The same drivers also are in demand for delivering anhydrous ammonia fertilizer, which is being applied to some fields, the governor said in his order.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.