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Agriculture

Bird flu is winding down, but Iowa's agriculture secretary says recovery will take time

Chickens stand in their cages at a farm near Stuart, Iowa, in 2009.
Charlie Neibergall
/
AP
Chickens stand in their cages at a farm near Stuart in 2009.

Iowa hasn’t seen a new avian flu case in more than a month. Iowa’s agriculture secretary says recovery will take some time as producers get the go-ahead to replenish their flocks.

A spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship said in an email to IPR that eight commercial poultry sites have been released from quarantine, as of Thursday. These farms have completed all of the procedures: They’ve destroyed and disposed of the birds, they've cleaned and disinfected and their farms have been tested for the virus before they've received approval to replenish their flocks.

“It takes some time for these things to happen,” said Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig in an interview with IPR. “We anticipate that by the end of June, all the quarantines will have been lifted.”

Naig said every producer’s timeline is different and some may not get new birds until fall. He added producers will be a couple months away from seeing new revenue because it takes time to get those birds to market.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture pays producers for their bird losses and for cleaning and disinfecting their barns, but Naig said these payments don’t make producers whole, and financial recovery “could take time” for producers.

“There was a lot of work put into improving biosecurity plans and training around that. The evidence that it was successful is that we did not see the farm to farm spread that we did in 2015.”
Mike Naig, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture

The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship on May 16 started releasing farms from quarantine restrictions that prevented poultry and poultry products from being moved on or off of farms affected by the disease. The state agriculture department on June 3 lifted the ban on live bird exhibitions, marking more than 30 days without a new bird flu case in the state.

“We are definitely on the tail end of [bird flu] here in the state of Iowa,” Naig said.

Iowa’s first case of highly pathogenic avian influenza this year was confirmed March 1. Since then, more than 13 million commercial and backyard birds in Iowa have died from the disease or been killed to stop it from spreading. The most recent case of bird flu in the state was found May 2 in a backyard flock in Bremer County. Bird flu has hit 15 commercial poultry operations and four backyard flocks in Iowa.

This year’s spread of bird flu across the country has primarily been blamed on wild birds on their migration north. More than 39 million commercial and backyard birds have died from bird flu or been killed to stop the disease from spreading further. In the December 2014 – June 2015 outbreak of bird flu, more than 50 million birds died across the country, with more than 32 million of those birds in Iowa.

Throughout the 2022 outbreak of bird flu, Naig has reiterated how much better producers have been prepared compared to 2015, and how they’ve enhanced the precautions they take to keep germs and diseases off of their farms, known as biosecurity.

“There was a lot of work put into improving biosecurity plans and training around that,” Naig said. “The evidence that it was successful is that we did not see the farm to farm spread that we did in 2015.”

Iowa is the top egg producing state in the country, with about 60 million egg-laying hens. It also ranks seventh for turkey production, raising around 12 million turkeys each year.

Editor's note: This story was updated on June 10 at 10:45 a.m. to clarify the number of farms that have been released from HPAI-related quarantine.