RAMER, Ala. (AP) – Chicken farmer Jeremy Brown had 171,000 peeping reasons to worry about the frigid weather and a crunch in the propane industry as the sun began setting Thursday and temperatures headed toward the teens.
Brown uses gas-fueled heaters to keep temperatures around 90 degrees in his six poultry houses, which each hold about 28,500 days-old chicks, and the birds would die quickly without the warmth.
So Brown and other farmers are keeping in close contact with each other and propane suppliers amid what industry officials describe as a delivery bottleneck caused by surging demand amid the frigid cold snap.
“It can create quite a problem, because without the propane and without this heat we can’t raise these birds,” said Brown, walking through a sea of chirping chicks in one of his houses.
The potential for a propane gas shortage led Gov. Robert Bentley to declare a state of emergency Thursday night.
Bentley said in a statement that the emergency declaration allows him to invoke laws barring propane providers from price gouging, and suspends the propane gas industry’s regulations on the purchase and sale of the gas. The declaration will also lift federal motor carrier regulations on propane being brought into the state, Bentley said.
Lisa Fountain, executive director of the Alabama Propane Gas Association, said increased demand in Alabama and other regions made it hard to distribute gas as quickly as farmers and other large users are burning it. The situation is even more complicated because a major gas supplier has quit making deliveries, citing shortages.
“What we have is a logistical nightmare with transportation right now,” Fountain said between phone calls from poultry farmers and state officials in her office.
Emergency declarations issued because of cold weather in the Midwest and the East have loosened the rules for propane truck drivers, she said, and that has resulted in out-of-state companies driving south for propane.
“Some of those transports are coming into the state of Alabama and creating a little bit of a bottleneck down at the pipeline,” she said.
Brown, who farms in rural Montgomery County, said he had his storage tanks topped off so he now has about 6,000 gallons of propane, or enough for about a week.
While Brown locked in a price of $1.35 a gallon when the weather was warmer, other growers are paying up to $1 a gallon more, making it harder to turn a profit.
“It’s not good,” he said. “People are going to have to take out loans to buy propane.”
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