Legislators have voted to give the state ag department $100,000 to prepare for disease outbreaks, like the bird flu that struck in 2015. Ag Secretary Bill Northey says the governor could still reject the proposal, so the “help wanted” sign isn’t up quite yet.

“Those dollars will allow us to be able to bring a person on to help with preparation for animal disease — bird flu, but also other animal diseases like foot-and-mouth disease,” Northey says, “to do some of the planning with our farmers and our farm organizations.”

Last year, one year after the state’s poultry industry was hit hard by the bird flu, Northey asked legislators for half-a-million dollars to establish a “foreign animal disease” program in his agency. That request wasn’t granted last year, but Northey asked again this year.

“Certainly it was a challenging budget year for the legilsature in lots of places, so we’re very pleased to be able to have some investment in this,” Northey says. “That will help us in some of those conversations that could have a big, big impact down the road.”

Northey says farm commodity groups have expressed “some interest” in contributing funds, too, to create a public-private partnership for this project.

“When you look at the impact of disease, it is important to be able to make some small investments that could significantly reduce the costs of those diseases in, hopefully, the unliklihood that those diseases come,” Northey says, “but certainly the real possibility that they could at some point.”

Northey is interested in hiring an “animal health professional” for the new unit. That could be a veterinarian or someone already working in the Iowa Department of Agriculture who has “animal disease planning experience.”

Federal officials define “foreign animal diseases” as serious illnesses that are not generally present in the U.S., but can be transmitted among U.S. livestock and poultry and have “significant health or economic impact.” Diseases commonly called “bird flu” and “mad cow disease” are on the list of “exotic” animal diseases.