In wake of bird flu, Minnesota turkey producers slowly restocking flocks

In the wake of the worst outbreak of avian influenza in U.S. history, and with an eye for its possible return in the fall, Minnesota turkey producers are slowly restocking production flocks.

Minnesota, which is the nation's largest turkey-producing state, lost about 5 million turkeys and 4 million egg-laying hens due to the H5N2 virus. More than 48 million birds, mostly in the Upper Midwest, died as a result of the epidemic.

Production at the Willmar Poultry hatchery in Willmar, MN, is off about 20% because of the virus, the Minneapolis StarTribune reported. Normally, the giant turkey hatchery records about 3 million turkey births a month.

"Farmers are chomping at the bit to restock," Ben Wileman, a director at Willmar Poultry, told the newspaper.

The USDA recently upped its funding for research for a vaccine to combat the virus, which it hopes to stockpile. The spread of the H5N2 virus began to slow with warmer weather, but concern is growing that it may return in force this fall when temperatures cool and migrating birds fly south for the winter.

With the last case of the virus reported in Minnesota in June, 39 of 108 poultry farms hit by bird flu have been repopulated with healthy turkeys, and another 37 have been given the regulatory okay to repopulate. Still, turkey producers that have bolstered their biosecurity procedures are wary of what cooler temperatures might bring.

"What was normal biosecurity before didn't keep this out of the barns," Steve Olson, executive director of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association, told the StarTribune.

The virus, which began to spread last year and hit major U.S. turkey-, chicken- and egg-producing states like Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska, reached a total of 15 states. Some states, like Iowa, declared a state of emergency to combat the outbreak.

The virus spurred Mexico, Canada, China, South Korea and the European Union to either ban or restrict poultry imports from either all of the U.S or from specific states.

- check out the StarTribune story

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