Ag Secretary Bill Northey talks about the bird flu along with Governor Terry Branstad.

Ag Secretary Bill Northey talks about the bird flu along with Governor Terry Branstad.

With the number of cases of the bird flu mounting in Iowa’s chicken and turkey facilities, Governor Terry Branstad today took action to bring in more resources to help in the fight.

“As the virus continues to spread, I decided that declaring a state of emergency for the entire state of Iowa was necessary,” Branstad says.

The emergency proclamation activates the Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management emergency response plan.”The disaster proclamation allows agencies to better utilize more resources to help respond to these contaminations as well as plan and enforce travel routes for vehicle hauling products relating to poultry and turkeys,” Branstad says.

Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey joined the governor and says the disaster declaration means they will continue increasing biosecurity measures. “We’ve been working with U.S.D.A. and will be providing some enhanced biosecurity guidelines that anyone who has or works with poultry should consider,” Northey says. “This includes treating all commercial poultry sites as potentially positive of high path avian influenza — so it’s important to control access.”

Northey announced another 4 facilities today that are suspected of being infected and that includes another one million laying hens and brings the total number of cases to 21. “We are about 16 million birds that have been affected here –layers in Iowa — that’s out of about 59 to 60 million layers. So, about one-quarter of the state’s flock is on infected farms,” according to Northey.

He says the birds from the infected farms are destroyed and they are working to safely dispose of the animals. “In some cases, the turkey operations, many of those are composted within the barns that those turkeys actually live in. In other cases we are seeing some composting outside the layer operations. We are seeing and likely to see more burial on those farms as well. We may well see some landfill options in some cases as well,” Northey says. “In these cases, these birds are put into a plastic bag and completely sealed and hauled to a landfill.”

Governor Branstad says the sheer number of birds makes the clean up difficult. “I think that’s one of the challenges, is first of all it’s a huge problem and it’s gonna take some time,” according to Branstad. “It’s easier I think with the turkeys than it’s going to be with the laying hens that are in these cages, and trying to get the dead hens out of these cages when you have in some cases millions of them. That’s gonna be a big challenge.” Branstad says that’s whey they are putting some of the restrictions on travel are to ensure trucks loaded down with the dead birds don’t travel on roads and bridges that can’t handle the weight.

Branstad is the state’s longest serving governor and says he hasn’t seen an outbreak this severe. “Not in the years that I have been involved in state government have we had a disaster situation, affecting in this case our poultry and turkeys like this,” Branstad says. “This is a magnitude much greater than anything we’ve dealt with in recent modern times.” Branstad says the emergency declaration isn’t necessarily an indication they think the disease will spread clear across the state.

“Well you got one in Kossuth County which is north-central and you’ve got one in Madison County. Most of them have been in northwest Iowa, but obviously the people in Wright County where they have a lot of birds have been concerned about this. And we felt considering that we’ve got it in Wisconsin and Minnesota — and I guess there’s been some in other states like South Dakota — that it just made sense to go with a statewide disaster declaration,” Branstad says.

The governor says the outbreak will have a big impact on the farm economy that has already been suffering from a drop in income. But Branstad and Northey both declined to give an estimate on the dollar amount of damage. The disease usually slows once temperatures warm and they say they want to wait and see what happens before trying to add up the cost.