© 2020 Iowa Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

New Options for Composting Avian Flu Losses

Photo by Amy Mayer/IPR file
Turkeys lost to bird flu can often be composted right in the barns where they perished. Corn stover may help accelerate the process.

Composting millions of euthanized birds affected by avian flu is arduous and some poultry producers say the process takes too long. The corn stover usually used for cellulosic ethanol may help the process.

Stover is comprised of stalks, cobs and other waste left after harvest. A combination of heat and carbon-rich corn waste accelerates decomposition and kills the virus. The leftover material provides farmers with a compost to spread on fields. 

"We’ve got a couple of companies that are working on cellulosic ethanol and I believe they have been consulted with and to some extent maybe even participated in providing some of that carbon for the composting effort," says Mike Naig, deputy secretary at the Iowa Department Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

Earlier this week  Iowa U.S. Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack expressing concerns Iowa poultry producers have expressed that depopulation of infected flocks takes too long.

"The challenges is that with egg laying facilities that sanitation system is different than it is with a turkey or a chicken production facility," says Vilsack. "It's easier to compost in facilities that have large space where the birds are located. With egg laying facilities they basically are in cages and they're stacked. So it's much more labor intensive and it takes a little bit longer."

As the nation's leading egg producer, Iowa's laying hens make up the majority of birds infected with avian flu. 

The USDA reports more than 160 outbreaks of avian flu nationwide. More than a third of the 33.5 million birds affected nationwide are Iowa poultry. 

The governors of Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota and Wisconsin have all declared states of emergency in an effort to slow the virus's spread.