Avian flu outbreaks slow, but impact still being felt

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By Kent Thiesse
Farm Management Analyst & Vice President MinnStar Bank Lake Crystal

The deadly H5N2 virus, or avian flu virus (bird flu) was first detected Minnesota in early March, and after peaking in early May, has now declined considerably.
There have been no new cases reported in Minnesota since June 5. Similarly, there have been no new cases of the bird flu in Iowa since June 9. Poultry experts and scientists had predicted that the virus would diminish considerably in intensity, once the outside temperatures reached 75 degrees or higher on a consistent basis. It appears that this has occurred in most of the hardest hit areas of Minnesota and Iowa.
As of June 15, there have been 222 confirmed cases of the H5N2 virus in the U.S., resulting in the loss of over 47 million birds nationally. Minnesota has had 105 cases of avian flu confirmed, which has resulted in the loss of about 9 million birds, primarily market turkeys, but also some large egg laying operations.
There has been a high concentration of confirmed bird flu cases in five or six counties in central Minnesota. Iowa, the largest egg producing state, has been hit particularly hard with 74 cases of the virus, resulting in the loss of over 30 million birds, primarily egg-laying hens. The bird flu has also struck Nebraska, Wisconsin, and South Dakota.
Even though the number of avian flu cases has waned in recent weeks, the economic impacts of the worst bird flu outbreak in U.S. history are not likely to disappear any time soon. The first turkey producers in central Minnesota hit with the virus in early March have started to re-populate their barns, slightly over 90 days after their flocks were depopulated. No egg laying operations in Minnesota or Iowa have yet returned to production, and the return could be several weeks away yet.
The combination of the birds that died and were euthanized, along with the time out of production, is having a significant financial impact on producers. There was a partial reimbursement from USDA to producers for the birds that were euthanized; however, there was no financial reimbursement or insurance coverage for birds that died, or for the down time in production.
The bird flu outbreak has also affected feed suppliers and other input providers for poultry farms. There have also been employment reductions on poultry farms and in processing plants, as well as in associated businesses. The hardest hit counties in central Minnesota and northwest Iowa have especially noticed the community-wide economic impacts resulting from the avian flu outbreak.
Consumers have also been feeling the effects of the bird flu outbreak at the grocery store. Retail egg prices in early June at some locations had risen two to three times above the egg prices in early April. The level of increases in retail egg prices has varied across the Upper Midwest, depending on how the bird flu has affected various egg suppliers.
The reduced egg supply and higher prices has also affected restaurants, bakeries, and other egg product users. Iowa lost approximately 37 percent of their egg laying capacity to avian flu in the past tow to three months. As a result, some experts feel that it could take up to 12 to 18 months for the egg supply chain to return to normal, provided there are no additional major production losses from the bird flu virus.

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