Sinclair Lewis once said “winter is not a season, it’s an occupation.” Lately, for most upper Midwest residents, especially those relying on propane heat, no truer words have been said.
According to Minnesota Public Radio, January 2014 meant monthly temperatures ranging from 7 to 10 degrees colder than normal, ranking among the top 4 coldest Januarys during the past 35 years. “At least a dozen observers reported a monthly minimum temperature value of -40, while Minnesota reported the coldest temperature in the nation on 17 days” during January, MPR reported.
Meanwhile, propane prices – fueling many rural homes and buildings – have skyrocketed forcing customers to ration, apply for energy assistance, and turn down the heat. Figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration show that wholesale propane prices have climbed 28 percent nationally since mid-December, including a 23 percent jump between Jan. 13 and Jan. 20, 2014.
The situation is hampering turkey and poultry farmers all over the U.S. who are trying to hatch their first batch of poults. Minnesota is the number one turkey-producing and processing state in the U.S. with nearly 250 family farms raising more than 47 million turkeys annually, according to the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association. Miller Hatcheries reports that day-old poults, more than any other species of poultry, are very fragile and vulnerable during their first few days of life.
Turkeys take approximately 28 days to hatch and egg incubators need to be at 99 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit with 30 to 40 percent humidity during incubation. Brooding temperatures for small poultry flocks determine their eating patterns in the first few days of life. “Exposing a chick to cool temperatures in the first three weeks of life makes the bird uncomfortable and less likely to eat the feed and drink the water needed for a good start,” the Manitoba Agriculture Food and Rural Initiatives website states. Cold drafts or limited heat might wipe out an entire hatch.
That’s why rural residents and farmers have been calling legislators and city officials for help. As of Jan. 31, 2014 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will release $450 million in energy assistance funding with $15.8 million going to Minnesota residents. Wisconsin will receive $14.2 million.
Need help paying your propane bill?
In Minnesota, residents can call the Energy Assistance Program at 800/657-3710 or visit the website for information. Other forms of assistance may be available through county social service programs, community-based organizations and nonprofit agencies.
March 18-20 2014, the largest regional poultry show will take place at the River Center, in downtown St. Paul, MN. The Midwest Poultry Federation welcomes participants from all segments of the poultry industry: egg layer, broiler, turkey and organic/specialty poultry producers.
Energy assistance programs by state:
Star Tribune article Feb. 6, 2014