Farmers take another hit as propane runs low


It’s no secret it’s been a tough couple of years for farmers. With rising costs of inputs, low commodity prices, weather challenges and tariffs, we are losing farms in the U.S. at rapid rates. Wisconsin alone has lost over 1,700 dairy farms in the past three years.

In addition to mental health and suicide prevention hotline help and awareness at agriculture conferences, everywhere you turn it seems something new is added to the stress of farming. Expensive breakdowns, record low temperatures and snow, now we have to deal with another issue: propane shortage.

On our farm in Northeast Iowa, this is affecting us. The corn crop we have harvested depends on large gain dryers to dry down the crop to store and sell.

For those unaware, corn is tested for moisture content while we are harvesting it, and we shoot for under 15 percent moisture in the corn grain in order to store it and prevent damage and mold. Unfortunately for us, it has been a very wet fall, and it was a very wet spring. We use monitors in our combines that show the moisture content of the crop — sometimes roughly 18 percent to 24 percent.

The field corn we grow must be harvested, but if it’s too wet, we put it in giant grain dryers. Think of it like a dryer for your clothes, only on a much larger scale, and for grain.

Image by Michelle Miller

We usually start harvesting our corn in the beginning of October but got snowed out. We’ve had more snow days, with “tough” beans and cold, wet corn. When we put the grain into dryers we must run them on LP, or liquid propane.

On our farm we use 1,300  to 1,400 gallons of LP per day, but now we can’t get any. There isn’t a shortage in the country, but it does need to be trucked up here from down south. Trucks are waiting for 20 to 30 hours or more to get loaded, and they’re trying to change regulations to get more truckers on the road for longer hours to get here. We’ve been declared an area of emergency, as have other states.

I just found out that we’re getting 300 gallons delivered today. It’s not enough, but will at least get us something. But if we can’t get propane gas, we have to shut off the grain dryers. If we can’t run dryers, can’t harvest the corn. If we can’t harvest, we lose the crop. It can all turn into a devastating cycle. Not only that, but this is another issue of supply-and-demand economics. The gas companies can easily raise the price of LP since they know how bad we need it. Just another added expense that we really can’t afford right now.

It breaks my heart. America NEEDS farmers. And with real, negative impacts on farmers like this, how can we be expected to have the next generation carry on the tradition? Not just LP shortages, but the combination of all the other factors. When they see our generation struggle, how many of them will turn away at the opportunity to be the next generation of farmers … how many family farms will continue to go under due to the rising costs and struggles.

I guess this is why farmers must be so resilient. Now we wait on hope and a prayer, for Mother Nature to show her smiling, sunny face. We could use some WARM sunny days amidst this unusually corn, snowy, and dreary fall.


Michelle Miller, the Farm Babe, is an Iowa-based farmer, public speaker, and writer, who lives and works with her boyfriend on their farm, which consists of row crops, beef cattle, and sheep. She believes education is key in bridging the gap between farmers and consumers.

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