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Farmers face new challenge, diversion of natural gas

UTICA, Minn. (KTTC) — Farmers across the region are facing yet another challenge this week as they try and finish harvesting their crops.

The natural gas supply for commercial corn dryers is being shut off for several days in an effort to keep enough supply on hand for homes and schools.

Farmers are already several weeks behind schedule harvesting their fields and temperatures nearly 20 degrees below normal are rending commercial corn dryers in Minnesota useless. This week’s arctic blast forecast won’t help the situation.

“Today on November 11th, in southeast Minnesota, they shut off the natural gas to all commercial grain dryers,” said Daniel Kronebusch, a crop and dairy farmer. “With the severe cold weather, for the length of time that we’ve had, its effecting the farmers with our late crop, and the corn crop is higher moisture.”

In order for corn to be stored, it has to be dried to a certain moisture level, hence the need for commercial driers especially on a wet year like we’ve had.

“A very tough blow for Minnesota farmers with the weather,” said Kronebusch.

Whitewater Milling in Utica was notified late Sunday night by their natural gas supplier Minnesota Energy that they would be curtailed, or have a restriction places on them, until further notice.

“When it gets cold, these grain dryers use a lot of gas and they don’t want to take the pressure away from the system,” said mill manager Matt Van Etten.

According to Minnesota Energy the average home uses about 870 therms of gas a year.
A grain dryer could use anywhere from 20,000 to 500,000 therms in that time.

“It just puts us at a stand still as far as our corn intake and drying,” said Van Etten. “It doesn’t help our customers as far as wanting to get their crops done, wanting to get their corn in the bin.”

Having the gas supply shut off is a rare occurrence. The last time it happened was 2009.

Despite the additional delay and the additional financial costs of drying crops, farmers continue to remain positive.

“It’s just one of those things that’s gotta happen, we’ll all get through it,” Van Etten. “Even though it’s not the greatest prices of the year, I still see smiling faces on the farmers when they come in.”

Whitewater Milling hopes to have its corn dryer back up and running by the end of the week if temperatures get closer to the seasonal average.

Minnesota Energy released a statement to our newsroom Monday afternoon indicating that this shut off included all commercial grain dryers in the state of Minnesota:

“Due to colder than normal temperatures for this time of year, Minnesota Energy Resources has curtailed natural gas use by agricultural grain dryers until further notice. In exchange for lower natural gas rates, curtailable customers have agreed to reduce their natural gas use in the event a reduction is necessary. Residential and commercial customers who are not on a curtailable rate are not affected by this request.”

We will closely monitor the weather forecast, and let farmers know as soon as the curtailment is lifted. Small family farms are not affected by this curtailment. So far, customers we’ve spoke to have been very understanding, and we appreciate their cooperation.”

Sarah Gannon

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