When the first episode of Avian Influenza was diagnosed the week of March 1, 2015 in Minnesota, the diagnosis took everyone by surprise.
Column by Alvaro Garcia, SDSU Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources Program Director & Professor
The surprise among those of us associated with animal agriculture was primarily due to the fact that poultry production has always been the epitome of biosecurity. Visits to poultry farms are by appointment only and change of clothes and/or protective garments and disposable plastic boots are the norm.
The first diagnosis in South Dakota took place the first week of April followed by nine additional sites in the same timeframe. Turkey farms were hit the hardest in both states. In April, officials identified a Cooper's hawk with the virus in western Minnesota, which was the first known wild infection in the state.
On July 10, 2015 the Minnesota DNR confirmed that a chickadee delivered to a wildlife rehabilitation center on June tested positive for Avian Influenza. For the first time Avian Influenza has been found in a songbird. So far, most detections had been in water fowl, which seem to be immune and thus, more likely to spread the virus. This has led to a concern of what might happen this fall when migratory waterfowl head south to their winter quarters.
Both eggs and turkey production make significant contributions to South Dakota's economy. In 2014, the state's laying hen farms produced 752 million eggs worth almost $63.3 million.
The state turkey farms raised 4.5 million birds with a total value of almost $139 million.
At the present time only one farm of layer chickens was diagnosed. As of the first week of June nearly half million turkeys have been affected on nine farms and nine different counties in South Dakota.
Since Avian Influenza affected nearly 11 percent of the commercial turkeys produced in the state, the economic impact can be estimated at close to $15 million.
To put this into perspective, Minnesota led the country in turkey production in 2014, with 45.5 million turkeys and an economic value of $866 million. As of early May 2015, the disease had been confirmed on 85 Minnesota turkey farms, resulting in the direct loss of nearly 5.7 million birds.
Oddly enough this represents 12.5 percent of the turkey population in Minnesota a figure only slightly off the 11 percent losses in South Dakota.
These dollar figures for bird losses in the state do not take into account the fact that the affected facilities will have to remain empty while they undergo a rigorous disinfection and cleaning process.
An 11 percent reduction in the population of turkeys in South Dakota will surely have ripple effects.
Reductions in farm supplies and feed purchases, and employee layoffs at farms and poultry processing plants will certainly affect local businesses.
A 1.8 Reduction Factor
The University of Minnesota conducted this year an emergency economic analysis and determined that this reduction in the local economic output from the poultry industry can be quantified by a 1.8 reduction factor.
That is to say that the $15 million resulting from direct turkey sale losses could have a collective economic impact in all nine counties of $27 million.
In its analysis, the University of Minnesota also found that each job lost in poultry, negatively affected 2.1 jobs in the state overall.
How this outbreak will evolve over time, is anyone's guess. The losses are substantial for South Dakota overall, as well as, for local businesses and communities that support this industry.
The Avian Influenza outbreaks have shown that in spite of very stringent biosecurity measures adapted by the poultry industry, animal agriculture is still vulnerable to disease outbreaks.
This time it was poultry, but there might be other instances in the future where other livestock species could be affected by disease.
It is important to remain vigilant and report any suspicious animal health problems (farmed or wildlife!) to the proper authorities.
SDSU Animal Disease Research & Diagnostic Laboratory
In response to the outbreak, SDSU Extension is taking part of a multi-state approach to provide research-based information and resources to families.
The state is also very fortunate to have within SDSU the South Dakota Animal Disease Research and Diagnostic Laboratory which has been very helpful up to this point.
This lab is one of fewer than 40 veterinary diagnostic laboratories in the nation accredited by the American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians.
The lab has performed Diagnostic Testing for Avian Influenza in over 5,000 samples in backyard birds, commercial sites and wild birds. This testing has been ongoing since March 2015 and occurs on weekends, holidays and evenings, plus during regular hours with emergency "on call" staff do the testing.
The South Dakota Animal Disease Research and Diagnostic Laboratory consults daily with the Board of Animal Health in Minnesota and South Dakota and has tested samples in Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota.