Natural Gas Lowers Grain-Drying Cost for Star Rock Farms

Pilot program shows portable, price-stable fuel could be the solution for hundreds of other farms

Every year, farmers use dryers on millions of tons of corn, wheat and other grains to prevent spoilage during storage and to achieve uniform moisture content.

But farmers across the U.S. – and in Central Pennsylvania – are facing an emerging challenge:  the fluctuating price of the propane they use to dry bushels of corn and other crops.

Two innovative companies, Rhoads Energy and Compass Natural Gas, created a novel solution:  deliver natural gas to farms via truck. The on-site natural gas program offers immediate cost savings and other advantages:

  • Price stability: The program offers set pricing over a course of years
  • Efficiency: Natural gas offers faster drying and cleaner burning
  • Rapid implementation: Farms can quickly switch from propane to natural gas without any infrastructure build-out

Lancaster-based Rhoads Energy provides heating fuels, HVAC, fleet fueling and other energy services in Central Pennsylvania.  Compass Natural Gas, based in Mechanicsburg, specializes in delivering natural gas anywhere accessible by truck, fueling business growth and improving the environment.

In 2019, the Rhoads-Compass partnership established a pilot project with Star Rock Farms LLC, based in Brogue, York County.

Starting in August, Star Rock began using trucked-in natural gas to dry its harvested corn. Abe Barley, CEO of Star Rock, said the operation dried 1,200,000 bushels of corn during this fall’s drying season.

“The program lowered our fuel costs for the season, which was an obvious advantage,” Barley said. “The natural gas also burned cleaner, so it was more efficient and better for our equipment.

After the successful project, Barley said natural gas will continue to be Star Rock’s fuel of choice for at least the next couple years.

This fall, Star Rock hosted a demonstration for area farmers, enabling them to see the process first-hand and hear about the benefits from Tim Hale and Ian Delaney, natural gas experts with Compass. Because of the interest generated by the Star Rock pilot program, Compass and Rhoads expect that use of natural gas for the drying process will expand dramatically across farms in the region.

“Rhoads Energy has served the agriculture market since our founding in 1917, providing a range of fueling services,” said Michael DeBerdine III, CEO of Rhoads. “Our partnership with Compass enables us to provide cost savings and an early solution to problem that could be getting worse for farmers.”

The stable pricing of natural gas could make it a game-changer for farmers in years to come. While propane remains available in Pennsylvania, farmers in the Midwest experienced significant problems with the fuel this year.

In December, the industry publication AgriNews ran a cautionary story with the headline, “Propane pain: Tight supplies delay grain drying.” Farmers have experienced higher costs and an extended drying season – problems that could migrate eastward.

Hale and Delaney, of Compass, note that Pennsylvania is poised to export more propane in coming years. The completion of the Mariner East 2 pipeline and Marcus Hook Industrial Complex will drive foreign interest in the state’s propane in coming years – a factor that could drive up domestic prices.

Agriculture is a new niche market for Compass, but a potentially important one. Pennsylvania is home to nearly 60,000 farms, according to the 2012 U.S. Census, with more than 10,000 in Lancaster and nearby counties. In the coming years, many agricultural operations will be seeking options if volatility continues to roil bulk propane pricing.

Rhoads Energy and Compass plan to continue outreach to Central Pennsylvania’s farmers throughout 2020 until the drying season begins in early fall.

 

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The Rhoads Energy Family of Companies offer heating oil, natural gas and propane delivery;  complete HVAC installation and service;  and fleet fueling services. In 2017, the company celebrated its 100th year of continuous service. The organization serves Central Pennsylvania through Rhoads Energy and other brands including Boyertown Oil & Propane, E.G. Smith Inc., Vincent R. Boltz, Blouch Fuel Service, and Aulenbach & Son. For information, visit www.RhoadsEnergy.com.

Compass Natural Gas specializes in delivering natural gas anywhere accessible by truck. Compass  is fueling America towards energy independence by harnessing Pennsylvania’s natural gas resources for the betterment of businesses, our environment, and our future. For information, visit www.compassngp.com.

Star Rock Farms is a third-generation diversified family farming operation that includes row crops, dairy, swine, and custom feedlot. Star Rock has a large dedicated workforce and a wide area of operations in Southeastern Pennsylvania.

 

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