Iowa farms devastated, impacts unknown as bird flu spreads

If this continues, along with the nation’s water shortage issues, expect famine-like conditions within the United States the next few years. It is getting that drastic. You’ll be seeing much higher prices in grocery stores soon. America is not untouchable.


DES MOINES | Iowa produces more eggs than any state in the country, and is ninth nationally in turkey production.

But both industries are being rocked by a relentless virus that is forcing farmers to destroy entire flocks. A highly pathogenic avian influenza — or bird flu — believed to be introduced by wild waterfowl such as ducks and geese has infected dozens of Iowa farms, causing the death and disposal of more than 20 million birds.

While some farmers cope with devastating losses, others are taking every precaution possible to prevent the disease’s spread, knowing full well it could all be in vain.

Through Friday there have been 44 cases, most of them in Northwest Iowa. More are discovered almost daily, and a federal official said he thinks another round will hit in the fall when migratory birds return to the region.

Local, state and federal government agencies are working to address the outbreak.

“This is unique,” said Bill Northey, the state’s secretary of agriculture. “We’ve never had anything just like this in Iowa.”

Experts said the last similar outbreak occurred in the early 1980s, and the worst of that occurred in Pennsylvania.


The virus devastates. Once a bird is infected, the entire flock must be destroyed. The farm area is quarantined, and the barn must be scrubbed clean and disinfected before it can be repopulated with birds.

Northey said that process can take up to months, during which operations are halted.

“Life just completely turns upside down,” Northey said.

The poultry and turkey farming communities in Iowa are close-knit. Many operations have been in the same family for multiple generations. So the impact of the virus is being felt even by those who have been fortunate thus far to avoid its sting.

“The stress level is very high among all my farmers at this point, whether you have the virus and have to deal with the emotional grief of losing your flock of turkeys, or if you don’t have the virus and you’re worrying about those who do and what happens next,” said Gretta Irwin, executive director of the Iowa Turkey Federation.


Despite the massive impact on Iowa’s turkey and poultry populations, prices at the grocery store are unlikely to change drastically, according to an economist at Iowa State University who specializes in agriculture.

Lee Schulz, an economics professor at Iowa State, said grocery-store prices tend to be “sticky” so as to not erode customer loyalty. So consumers should not have to worry about sudden price spikes on eggs or turkey.

“Looking in the short-term, those prices don’t change very much,” Schulz said.

But the bird losses are sure to have some kind of effects eventually, Schulz said. To what degree, he said, is difficult to ascertain while new cases are being discovered almost daily.

Randy Olson, executive director of the Iowa Poultry Association, said that because farmers have been so proactive since first hearing of the virus’ spread in other states, most have identified it before suffering large losses.

“These farmers have very extensive testing protocols, and these farmers are in their barns every day. So they see signs on the early end of this timeline. I’ve understood that these farmers have generally noticed signs (of infection) before massive death loss,” Olson said. “It’s really important that they catch this early.”

The impact will not be felt only on poultry and turkey farms, Olson said. He said there will be tangential effects. For example, with roughly a third of the state’s egg-laying hens wiped out by the virus, there are fewer birds eating corn and soybean meal.

“So this disease, which has a devastating impact to the individual egg farmers, also has detrimental effects on grain and oil seed demand,” Olson said.

In Minnesota, Jennie-O Turkey Store said this week it will lay off 233 employees at a processing plant because of bird flu outbreaks that have cut its turkey supply.

Full article: Iowa farms devastated, impacts unknown as bird flu spreads (Sioux City Journal)

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