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Year in Review: Avian influenza takes toll on area poultry producers

WORTHINGTON -- Gov. Mark Dayton and Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson were in Worthington leading a public meeting on Dayton's proposed buffer initiative on April 2 when Frederickson announced that Nobles County had its first case of con...

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WORTHINGTON - Gov. Mark Dayton and Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson were in Worthington leading a public meeting on Dayton’s proposed buffer initiative on April 2 when Frederickson announced that Nobles County had its first case of confirmed highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N2 that morning.
A 21,000-head flock of turkeys in rural Worthington became the state’s fourth case of bird flu within a span of three weeks. The bird flu, caused by an influenza A virus, went on to affect 108 farms in 23 counties across Minnesota and another 77 farms across 18 counties in Iowa. The highly pathogenic strain led to early death or depopulation of more than nine million birds in Minnesota and more than 31.5 million birds in Iowa.
The economic toll on turkey and chicken producers was significant.
The first case of HPAI in Minnesota was announced on March 5 by the Minnesota Board of Animal Health. It was reported that the viral strain was carried by migratory waterfowl such as ducks, geese and shorebirds.
Iowa’s first case of avian influenza came more than a month after Minnesota’s, but the virus hit hard when it struck. Just one week after the first reported case there, in a 27,000-head commercial turkey flock, it was confirmed that a nearly 5-million-head commercial egg-laying chicken flock near Harris, Iowa, was suffering bird loss from H5N2. It was the largest poultry operation in the United States, at the time, to be struck by the virus.
As more flocks were affected by the H5N2 strain, state and federal animal health officials encouraged poultry producers to take steps to protect their flocks.
While the public was not at risk to the virus, ongoing concerns about its spread to other flocks led both Minnesota and Iowa to announce a ban on all poultry expositions within their states. The decision meant there would be no poultry shows at county or state fairs, or public sales of birds. Those bans have since been lifted.
The last confirmed case of avian influenza in Minnesota was reported on June 5, while Iowa’s last reported case was on June 16.
As summer faded into fall, many of the poultry barns that had been under quarantine were allowed to repopulate. As of Nov. 6, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship announced quarantines lifted on all affected barns, and the Minnesota Board of Animal Health followed suit on Dec. 15.
As of Oct. 6, 90 percent of the previously infected sites in Minnesota were cleared to restock, and restocked poultry on all of the affected farms tested negative for the virus.
“Minnesota poultry growers have worked tirelessly alongside animal health officials to eliminate this disease from our state,” said State Veterinarian Bill Hartmann, who also serves as executive director of the Minnesota Board of Animal Health. “Completing disease response and recovery efforts could not have happened without the collaboration of state and federal agencies and Minnesota’s strong poultry industry.”
The Minnesota Board of Animal Health continues to work with government and industry partners to enhance response plans and strengthen surveillance and biosecurity efforts aimed at preventing farm-to-farm spread of the disease.

Related Topics: AGRICULTURE
Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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