While Minnesota's poultry farmers are getting back on their feet as quarantines on moving birds are lifted and the USDA has developed a promising vaccine, United States Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told the House Ag committee earlier this week that his agency is preparing for the worst in case the pandemic returns with the fall migratory of waterfowl.
Minnesota Public Radio's Mark Steil reported in Bird flu quarantine lifted in hard-hit Kandiyohi County:
. . . Lifting the quarantine means county farmers with flocks unaffected by the virus will be able to move poultry on and off their land without restrictions, officials said Thursday.
It's also another step in the region's recovery from the most significant bird flu outbreak the nation has ever seen.
Quarantines have now been lifted in 18 of the 23 Minnesota counties hit by bird flu. And of the 108 farms affected, a third are in some phase of restocking their barns with poultry. . .
Bluestem's editor was pleasantly surprised to see turkey feathers beside a county road she was biking down, a sure sign that birds were being transported.
On Wednesday, the Associated Press reported more positive news in Bird flu vaccine works on chickens; testing on turkeys:
Scientists have developed a vaccine strain that has tested 100 percent effective in protecting chickens from bird flu and testing is underway to see if it also protects turkeys, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told the House Agriculture Committee at a hearing on Wednesday.
If it does, the agency plans to quickly license it for widespread production and is seeking funding from the Office of Management and Budget to stockpile it nationally.
"Hopefully we'll be able to get a lot of folks working collaboratively together and we stockpile enough so that if this does hit and hits us hard we're in a position to respond quickly," Vilsack said.
That's good news, though even the development of an effective vaccine could potentially pose economic challenges to the industry, the story notes:
Still not all poultry producers are on the same page when it comes to using vaccine to fight an outbreak.
Turkey producers tend to favor vaccination to protect flocks because turkey immune systems appear more vulnerable to viruses. Some egg producers and farmers who raise broilers—chickens produced for meat—often resist vaccination programs because of the possible impact on export markets.
U.S. producers export nearly $6 billion worth of poultry and egg products yearly with about $5 billion of that chicken meat. . . .
Finally, the vaccine will not yet be available for birds now growing in barns across the Midwest. Farm Futures' Janell Thomas reported on Thursday in USDA ready in case of fall avian flu outbreak:
USDA is preparing for a fall outbreak of avian influenza, Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack told legislators in a hearing on the state of the Department Wednesday.
Highly pathogenic avian influenza H5, which broke out last December in the United States, has affected as many as 48 million birds.
Because the virus does not survive easily in hot weather, recent cases have waned, but fall temperatures and changes in air moisture may bring its return.
In response to questions from House Ag Committee members, Vilsack said USDA is preparing a more efficient response should avian flu cases spike in the fall, including plans for biosecurity, depopulation, disposal, indemnification and repopulation.
"We are planning for a circumstance where we're simultaneously having to deal with 500 outbreaks," Vilsack told the committee. "We think that’s sort of a worst case scenario situation." . . .
That estimate is more than double the number of farms hit this spring. Agri-Pulse's Phil Brasher reported in USDA bracing for bigger bird flu outbreak:
The government is gearing up to deal with as many as 500 incidents of avian flu this fall, far more than the number that devastated Midwest producers this spring, says Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. . . .
USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has reported 223 detections of avian flu since Dec. 19, including 105 in Minnesota and 75 in Iowa. There have been no new detections reported since June 17, but the outbreak devastated turkey and egg production in the two states, and there are fears it could reach broiler operations in the South. . . .
According to the Fargo Forum article Ag secretary lobbies for avian flu insurance for poultry farmers, Minnesota politicians applauded the concept while turkey producers said they'd take a close look:
Minnesotans applauded U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack after he advocated for an insurance program for farmers affected by avian influenza. . . .
Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., said in a news release that he was pleased to hear that Vilsack was calling for an insurance program and noted that he and the rest of the Minnesota congressional delegation have urged Vilsack to expedite a study of the feasibility of the insurance program. . . .
Steve Olson, executive director of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association, said Minnesota farmers would likely take a long look at any insurance program introduced by Congress.
"I think what they envision is something similar to crop insurance," he said on Thursday. "We're definitely interested in it, but it all depends on the premium costs. If they're too expensive, it wouldn't make sense for farmers to use it. It would have been useful this year, though.". . . .
Bluestem hopes for the best, but is glad that the USDA is using old farmer prudence in planning for the worst.
Photo: Turkey poults. Hoping that young birds now in barns aren't afflicted with the fast-acting fatal bird flu. Photo via the Manitoba Turkey Producers
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