Propane shortage still troubling farmers, homeowners in Alabama
by Brian Anderson
banderson@annistonstar.com
Feb 05, 2014 | 3401 views |  0 comments | 37 37 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The snow has melted in Alabama, but officials say a propane shortage in the state is still a serious threat for homeowners and farmers.

Prior to last week’s winter storm, Gov. Robert Bentley announced a state of emergency due to high demand. But two weeks later, after a weekend thawing of snow, things aren’t looking much better, said Lisa Fountain, the president of the Alabama Propane Gas Association.

“Y’all are facing eight straight days of sub-freezing nighttime temperatures, and the supply is still tight,” Fountain said. “Really, nothing has changed. There just isn’t snow on the ground.”

The propane problems are especially troublesome for Alabama’s poultry farmers, who rely on propane to keep their chickens warm in the winter months. Jeff Helms, a spokesman with the Alabama Farmers Federation, said many farmers are still scrambling to find propane to keep their chickens alive.

“Instead of getting enough propane to fill their tank, they’re maybe getting 30 percent full,” Helms said. “So that’s maybe only enough for a few weeks.”

Kent Stanford, an extension specialist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension Office, said that for the first few days of a newborn chick’s life, it will require 90-degree temperatures to stay alive.

“These farmers are using a lot of propane to keep these birds warm,” Stanford said. “So with the logistic problems of propane in the state, it’s putting a lot of stress on these farmers.”

Helms said there have been no reports of farmers losing large portions of their flocks due to the cold, and that working with state officials, including the Propane Gas Association, has allowed farmers to find companies to provide them with propane.

“But a lot of farmers haven’t been able to take in more chickens,” Helms said. “If they have less product, that’s affecting their bottom line.”

Despite the hardships facing some farmers, Helms said, the focus on the state is making sure homeowners have enough propane. Fountain said while supplies are down, gas companies are working hard to make sure customers stay warm.

“We’re doing everything we can and working with companies and drivers,” Fountain said.

Fountain said the propane shortage isn’t necessarily related to Alabama’s recent cold days, although that isn’t helping, either. Instead, the brutal cold in areas in the Northeast and Midwest sections of the country have made a nationwide propane shortage trickle down to Southern states that typically don’t see so much cold.

David Reynolds, chief operating officer for Bowman Gas, which has a location in Alexandria, said before last week’s snowfall, demand for propane was up more than 40 percent from his company’s projection. Those projections are based on 30-year-average weather models from the National Weather Service.

“Transportation is exhausted due to the demand,” Reynolds said. “A lot of our drivers are having to go to places outside of our typical footprint here in the Southeast.”

And the demand is pushing propane prices sky- high, Helms said. In some cases, the prices have doubled in just a few months.

“That’s eating into a lot of farmers’ budgets as well,” Helms said. “It’s absolutely a serious situation.”

Staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.

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