Midwest farmers used four times as much propane to dry their crops last fall than the year before, and Vermont fuel dealers and customers are feeling the heat.
A wet fall has led to a shortage in supply that has driven residential prices to record highs across the country this year. Vermont dealers say they have had to travel further to find enough propane to serve their customers.
The average price for residential propane in Vermont has increased from $3.75 per gallon in December to $4.22 per gallon on Feb. 3, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
"It hasn't been a whole lot fun out there," said Peter Bourne, owner of the heating fuel dealer Bourne's Energy, which serves the northern half of the state.
He said his company will not leave customers cold, but traveling long distances in search of fuel has driven up propane prices this winter.
"Generally speaking, we've been able to find it," he said. But this year his company has been driving to the southern tip of New England to find propane. "You've got to have the product, so you have to pay the price."
No Vermont dealers have turned down customers' requests for heating fuel, said Matt Cota, executive of the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association.
Cota said the good news is that the coldest days of winter are behind us.
He said there are several other compounding issues that create a supply shortage. The Cochin Pipeline System, which spans the Upper Midwest, was closed during December for maintenance. Also, he said, rail cars that previously carried propane are being refitted to carry crude oil, reducing transportation capacity.