A continuing rise in the price of propane could drive up grain drying prices at elevators around the Midwest, a University of Missouri agricultural engineer said.

"The farmers should know what sort of increase they are going to be charged for drying costs at the elevator," said Bill Casady of the MU Commercial Agriculture Program. "The producers should know how much the price of propane drives the elevator's drying cost. They can compare that with the on-farm drying costs and make an informed decision."

The cost of heating fuel is as much as 95% of the energy cost for grain drying, Casady said, with the electricity to run fans making up the other 5%. "If propane prices are a third higher this year than last year, the energy costs for drying will also tend to be about a third higher."

Heated-air drying allows producers to harvest in a timely manner and reduce potential losses from cumulative causes or catastrophic weather. But farmers concerned about drying costs should consider field drying, Casady said.

"Field drying is a valuable way to dry their crops. You don't pay anything, but you incur losses in the increase in dropped ears, or the risk of losing it to a storm by having it sit out there."

A middle course could be combination drying, which uses heated air to dry the grain partially, followed by aeration, to significantly reduce reliance on propane, he said.

Casady believes drying charges will not increase significantly. "Energy costs are only a portion of the total drying charge on wet grain," he said.

"Even if the price of propane remains high throughout harvest, drying charges at the elevator should not edge up more than about half a penny per point of moisture."

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