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County develops plans for disasters

WORTHINGTON -- Officials with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and the Board of Animal Health were in Worthington Thursday to conduct a table-top test of the county's emergency management system as it pertains to agriculture and the livestock industry.

What was already known prior to the exercise is that county officials have some work to do in preparing for a potentially devastating disease outbreak in the county's livestock sector.

The roughly 6-hour program presented by Eric Hess of Kansas-based SES, Inc. focused on foreign animal diseases with a specific emphasis on the highly contagious foot and mouth disease (FMD).

"If the state and the county has a plan to deal with foot and mouth disease, you can always ratchet back and deal with anything else," Hess told the dozen people in attendance.

FMD has not been found in the U.S. since the 1920s, when a couple of outbreaks occurred in California. It has, however, broken out in the United Kingdom and several countries in Europe, Asia and the Middle East in the last decade, and Japan and South Korea had confirmed outbreaks of the disease just this year.

As part of its preparation for a potential disease outbreak in the U.S., states have developed action plans and are now in the process of coordinating their response with counties. Nobles County was the third county in Minnesota to host the program, and earlier this week a meeting was conducted in Cottonwood County. Pipestone and Murray counties will host programs on Nov. 4 and 5, respectively, and Jackson County will have a program on Nov. 16. Rock County has yet to request the training.

Hess said counties will need to develop protocol and plan for a response to an agricultural emergency. If FMD shows up in Minnesota, the Governor could order a halt to all livestock transportation. In that scenario, counties need to know where they can temporarily house the in-transit animals that are caught before they reach their destination.

Alternately, if there is a local outbreak of FMD, local officials need to have an action plan in place specifying where the animals will be quarantined for depopulation and where and how they will be disposed of.

Hess said it is imperative local producers contact their veterinarian at the first sign of any contagious disease in their herd. In today's society in which livestock are transported hundreds, if not thousands of miles -- in cases half-way across the country -- containment of an outbreak is key. The sooner it is discovered, the quicker the reaction.

"Most foreign animal diseases are not spread because of intentional acts," Hess said. "It's because somebody did something stupid."

To better explain the damage an FMD outbreak could cause to Minnesota's livestock industry, Hess shared some statistics about the business of agriculture in Minnesota. Considered the No. 1 or No. 2 economic driver in the state, agriculture is a multi-billion dollar industry, with $22.9 billion in total agricultural sales. Of that, $6.1 billion is in the livestock industry and $9.8 billion is in crops. The remainder comes from forestry sales.

"When you process that material, (the value) goes up five or six times to $300 billion," Hess said. "Ag is big business in this state -- you have 81,000 farms. That's hard when you talk about an incident in the state. That's why giving each county a plan is so important -- these things can get pretty big, pretty quickly."

As part of Thursday's exercise, Nobles County Emergency Management Director Dan Anderson networked with several key people knowledgeable about the county's livestock industry. Vital to any agricultural response is knowing where the livestock farms are -- specifically those with cattle, swine, sheep, goats, llamas and alpacas that would be affected by an FMD outbreak.

"This exercise is important because agriculture is such an important part to this county -- both financially and culturally," Anderson said.

County emergency management grant dollars were used to bring the training exercise to Worthington, and Anderson said the money was well-spent.

"We needed to address this," he said. "I am not an ag guy, but I was around a bunch of ag people today. Until today I didn't have a framework for the plan."

While Anderson said he has certain things incorporated into the county's emergency operations plan with regard to animal agriculture, those plans are "a little bit vague."

"We're going to put together a planning team after the first of the year," he said, adding that he'd like to have a response plan in place within the next year for an animal disease emergency.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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