Top 10 Ag News Stories 2015- #10 Bird Flu

By DTN Staff

OMAHA (DTN) — Each year during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, DTN publishes our choices for the top 10 ag news stories of the year. Today we start out with No. 10, 9 and 8.

No. 10: Bird Flu Sweeps Through Turkey, Egg Operations in the Midwest

By Chris Clayton

DTN Ag Policy Editor

Poultry growers and USDA were caught off guard by the devastation when highly-pathogenic H5N2 avian influenza swept through the Midwest last spring.

With more than $3.3 billion in estimated economic impact, USDA’s chief veterinarian, Dr. John Clifford, eventually declared the deadly bird flu virus as the “largest animal health emergency in this country’s history” when he testified before Congress last summer.

Nationally, the virus led to the death of more than 48 million chickens and turkeys on 223 farms across 21 states; 42 million chickens and 7.5 million turkeys were euthanized.

More than 30 countries ended up banning poultry imports from infected states and a few countries banned all U.S. poultry products. South Korea just recently announced it would reinstate imports for certain poultry products. Restrictions on U.S. poultry in China remain.

Turkey operations in Missouri, Arkansas and Minnesota were among the first hit in March, leading to the false belief that turkeys were far more sensitive to H5N2 than other commercial poultry.

Ducks and geese were found to be carriers of the virus, but not as susceptible to its effects as other wild birds or domestic poultry.

Egg production fell roughly 9% from 2014 figures nationally, but recent USDA reports also show egg hatcheries are ramping up with eggs in incubators now up 25% from a year ago.

Turkey production fell 4% from 2014, though Minnesota, the nation’s largest turkey-producing state, saw production fall 12%. Still, the decline in birds had little impact on consumers and was barely noticed during the holiday season.

H5N2 hit an Iowa farm on Aril 20, forcing 5.3 million egg-laying chickens to be euthanized, the largest single operation wiped out by the virus. In less than a month Iowa officials were facing a crisis, trying to dispose of about 24 million birds statewide, mostly egg layers. Iowa eventually saw 31.5 million commercial birds infected and euthanized.

In November, Iowa officials announced all commercial barns or facilities affected by the virus had completed disinfection and cleaning, and passed environmental tests. The facilities can be restocked with birds. Minnesota officials followed up in early December with a similar declaration.

The unpredictability of highly pathogenic bird flu also means the disease could return in the spring when bird migrations begin.

In anticipation, USDA hired 90 more veterinarians and started stockpiling as much as 500 million doses of vaccine for the flu.

Randy Olson, executive director of the Iowa Poultry Association, said earlier this month he has heard good progress from some of the 72 commercial poultry farms in Iowa hit by influenza.

“Those farmers who were affected by high-path avian influenza got through a very challenging year, but the good news is I’m hearing all of them are restocking barns to varying degrees,” Olson said. “Some of the larger farmers might take upwards of another 18 months before they are fully restocked. So it will be a long process throughout 2016, but we should see ever-increasing flock numbers until those barns are full again.”

A biosecurity measurement tool for poultry producers:…

USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service released an epidemiology report on the spring outbreak:…

Chris Clayton can be reached at

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN.

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