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January 29, 2014   Email to Friend 

Debra Davis
January 29, 2014

DeKalb County poultry farmer Ronnie Dalton will sleep better tonight knowing the 60,000 baby chicks he's caring for will be warm. That wasn't the case last night.

Yesterday, three of his eight poultry houses in the Grove Oak community each had 20,000 day-old chicks delivered. His propane tanks had less than 80 gallons each, and although he had gas ordered, a delivery mixup left his tanks nearly empty by nightfall.

"This morning, two of the three houses I had chicks in were out of propane," said Dalton. "I know I lost some birds, but I don't know how many. They were huddled together to stay warm, and I wasn't going to disturb them. Thank goodness the gas truck was able to get here today and delivered 650 gallons (total for all three houses). I also got a little gas in my other houses where I don't have chickens so I can keep the pipes from freezing."

Alabama Farmers Federation staff members have participated in daily briefings on the propane crisis with representatives of the governor's office, Alabama Propane Gas Association (APGA), state Emergency Management Agency, Department of Agriculture and Industries, and Alabama Poultry & Egg Association for several days.

The Federation led efforts to connect possible tanker trucks in Florida with Alabama propane distributors facing delivery problems. A nationwide propane shortage triggered increased demand for specialized tanker trucks used to haul the fuel. Many of those trucks were hired to haul fuel to Northern and Midwestern distributors, where the crisis began weeks ago.

APGA Executive Director Lisa Fountain has been helping farmers who need propane find suppliers. Now, she's working to connect available tanker trucks with her member dealers needing bulk delivery.

Alabama Poultry & Egg Association Membership Director Ray Hilburn said poultry integrators are aware of the propane shortage and are now targeting chick placements to farmers with fuel.

However, Federation Poultry Director Guy Hall said most farmers he has talked to are getting only enough propane to heat houses a few days.

"The propane shortage is projected to be an issue for poultry farmers, and our state in general, for the next few weeks," Hall said. "It will take some time to refill bulk storage capacity, which has been estimated to be as low as 25 percent statewide."

Dalton said his problems began when his normal propane supplier told him they didn't have gas to bring him. That left Dalton in the same shape as hundreds of other Alabama poultry farmers -- looking for a new supplier in a market already facing delivery problems and a short supply.

Dalton estimates the gas he got today will only last through Friday night, adding he is uncertain when he can get more or what the price will be. Today's delivery was $2.35 a gallon, about a dollar above the last he bought.

"I'm just glad to get gas today," he said. "I was scared to death all these biddies were going to die. I'v been growing chickens pretty much all my life. It's always had its ups and downs, but I haven't ever seen anything like this."

Farmers with an emergency need should contact the APGA at (334) 358-9590. A list of APGA members is available online.

Poultry producers concerned about fuel to finish their current flock are urged to contact their integrator. Farmers experiencing major issues related to propane supply may also call Hall at (334) 451-2892 or ghall@alfafarmers.org

Farmers with questions about emergency poultry and livestock mortality procedures can contact the Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries at (334) 240-7278.

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