Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad said today that Iowa landfills should not take advantage of a bad situation and “gouge” poultry operations hit with bird flu with exorbitant landfill fees.

“We do have millions of dead birds that need to be disposed of,” Branstad said this morning during his weekly news conference. “And we want to dispose of them in an appropriate and correct way.”

Branstad and U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack talked about the issue by phone on Friday. Bill Northey, the state’s ag secretary, and the head of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources have sent a letter to the state’s landfills, explaining the dead chickens and turkeys are being properly prepared for burial. Branstad is appealing to landfill operators to be “reasonable and fair” in determining the appropriate fees for accepting the birds.

“We want them to be compensated fairly, but it’s not appropriate to gouge people when you have a disaster situation like this,” Branstad said.

Branstad has asked for a federal disaster declaration from the USDA., but Ag Secretary Vilsack says the loans that would be made available through that action actually have higher interest rates than would be available from other lenders. Branstad said he’s concerned about the job losses at the facilities which have been hit by bird flu as well as the steep decline in Iowa poultry production.

“This is a significant loss that we’re very concerned about and the impact on our economy could be something that at this point we don’t know how great, but we’re already beginning to see its impact,” Branstad told reporters today.

AUDIO of Branstad’s weekly news conference, 28:00

The USDA does have an “indemnity” fund that will pay poultry producers for the “fair market value” of the birds that have to be killed. Federal payments will also cover the “reasonable costs” of sanitizing facilities where bird flu has been found.