Falling temps, propane shortages mean worries for farmers

Published 11:00 pm Monday, January 27, 2014

With a winter storm looming and a statewide shortage of propane threatening the welfare of poultry farming operations, two Pike County farmers found themselves on opposite ends of the issue Monday.

Elizabeth Motes’ birds are grown out and are scheduled go be picked up today. At the other end, Frank Talbot just got his biddies “in the house” on Monday.

Motes is in a better position to weather the next few days of extremely cold weather and a dwindling supply of propane fuel.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“We’re selling our chickens on the front end of the weather system, and maybe they will be gone before the ice or snow gets here,” she said. “But, if the temperature drops into the teens, we’ll have to continue to run the heat to keep the pipes from freezing.”

Despite a statewide shortage of propane, Motes said she has not had any problems getting fuel to heat her two poultry houses and is getting the fuel at good price because she contracted back in the summer and locked in at $1.38 a gallon.

“Contracting for propane gas can be a gamble because a mild winter could result in reduced fuel costs that are lower than the contract price,” she said. “It’s just a gamble.”

Motes said that she has talked with a representative of AmeriGas who said they have plenty of propane gas at this time.

“But they are not taking on any more customers to assure that they can serve their present customers,” she said. “Their present cost is $2.35.”

Gov. Robert Bentley on Thursday declared a State of Emergency will help Alabamians have an uninterrupted supply of propane gas and other home heating fuel during this period of winter weather.

Lisa Fountain, Alabama Propane Gas Association executive director, said the propane gas supply in Alabama is tight because of the extreme winter weather.

“But we are not out of propane gas,” she said. “The pipe lines in Demopolis and Opelika are open. Only one gas company in Alabama has terminated its service to its poultry customers, schools and government. Other companies are stepping up to take on those customers.”

Fountain said the supply of propane gas at the 10 bulk plants is on the low side.

“The demand is high and, until we see warmer weather, we will not be able to build the inventory back,” she said.

Pike County farmer Frank Talbot is feeling the pinch of tightening propane supplies.

“When you get baby chickens in, you have to keep the houses at 90 degrees,” he said. “It takes a lot of fuel to heat a chicken house up to 90 degrees and keep it there. We’ll ramp the temperature down to about 83 degrees by Friday but it will still take a lot of fuel to keep it there, especially if the temperature outside is extreme.”

Talbot’s poultry houses have solid walls with three-inch insulation and that helps with the cost of heating. But the price of propane gas has skyrocketed and nothing helps with that.

“Back in December, I was paying $1.38 a gallon for propane gas,” he said. “On Saturday, I had to go to Opelika to get fuel because I wasn’t able to get propane gas locally. It was $3.20 a gallon,

“If the weather doesn’t break and we keep having to pay these high prices, it will be devastating to poultry farmers,” he said. “If we give out of fuel, that could be life threatening.”