WILLMAR - The impact of the highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreak across the Midwest is now affecting employment levels at poultry processing plants in Minnesota, and state and local officials are concerned.

Jennie-O Turkey Store announced Tuesday that its Faribault plant has reduced its production capacity to a single processing shift, effective May 29.

This will result in the layoff of 223 employees at its Faribault plant, according to the news release.

“This will be a temporary layoff, and our intent is to have everyone come back to work when bird numbers return to normal levels,” Randy L. Vergin, plant manager, said in the release. “We do not have an anticipated return to work date at this time but look forward to welcoming our team members back when production levels return to normal.”

Gov. Mark Dayton and Glenn Leitch, president of Willmar-based Jennie-O Turkey Store, talked Tuesday via telephone, discussing “the impact of avian flu on Minnesota’s turkey industry, including the announcement that 233 Jennie-O workers will be laid off,” Matt Swenson, Dayton’s press secretary, said in a statement to Forum News Service.

Dayton offered Jennie-O and Minnesota’s turkey growers and processing workers impacted by the growing crisis “any and all possible assistance from the state at this time,” Swenson said.

The governor and Leitch agreed this crisis is a serious situation, with serious implications for growers and many businesses impacted either directory or indirectly by the turkey industry. They also discussed Dayton’s call for legislation providing low-interest loans for farmers who have lost their flocks to avian flu.

Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson told Forum News Service on Tuesday he fears the Jennie-O announcement could show a “ripple effect” with more businesses affected.

The Faribault plant layoffs are “a stark reminder of the devastation being caused by the avian flu outbreak here in Minnesota,” Rep. Brian Daniels, R-Faribault, said Tuesday. Jennie-O officials “have assured him that the layoffs should only be temporary.”

Employees affected by this Jennie-O layoff in Faribault can contact the Faribault Workforce Center for employment assistance.

“I hope that doesn’t spill over into Willmar,” Frederickson said of the turkey-producing center of Minnesota, which is the top turkey-producing state.

“As (Jennie-O Turkey Store) announced a few weeks ago, our supply chain is challenged,” said Pat Solheid, Jennie-O Turkey Store’s vice president of human resources and administration. “As such, operations temporarily slowed down in some departments at our Willmar locations. We do have some departments that are working four days a week, but others are working a more normal schedule,” she said.

The impact of the avian flu outbreak is worrying local officials.

“We are very concerned about the impact of the avian flu outbreak on this very important industry for our state, our county and the city of Willmar,” said Steven Renquist, director of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission.