Field Notes by AgChoice

Episode 114: Disruption of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza

May 05, 2022 AgChoice Farm Credit Season 1 Episode 114
Field Notes by AgChoice
Episode 114: Disruption of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza
Show Notes Transcript

Chris Herr, executive director of PennAg Industries, joins us to discuss Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza. In recent weeks HPAI has had a tremendous disruption on the poultry industry in Pennsylvania and across the United States. Chris will help us learn more about HPAI, the current status in the state and next steps all of us can take to help prevent the spread of the disease.

Disruption of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza

Chris Herr, executive director of PennAg Industries, joins us to discuss Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza. In recent weeks HPAI has had a tremendous disruption on the poultry industry in Pennsylvania and across the United States. Chris will help us learn more about HPAI, the current status in the state and next steps all of us can take to help prevent the spread of the disease. 

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Can you start by telling our listeners a bit more about highly pathogenic avian influenza?

Sure. Just a bit, appreciate this opportunity to help educate your listeners, avian influenza. And you're going to get this from the perspective of someone who works in Harrisburg. I'm not a technician, I'm not a doctor. I rely on them extremely heavily through this process, but I'll try and give it to you on my level. But avian influenza it's caused by an influenza type A virus, which can infect poultry. Chickens, turkeys, pheasants, quail, domestic ducks, geese, and Guinea fowl.

And it's carried by a free flying waterfowl, such as ducks and geese and shore birds. So again, the avian influenza virus is out there. It travels with migrating birds. And we're certainly in the midst of that at this point in time and have been for some time now. But again, it can affect all types of poultry, both commercial and backyard. This idea, somehow that outdoor birds are immune to the avian influenza virus is just not accurate. It can affect any avian type bird, and has come to Pennsylvania fairly recently for the first time in nearly 40 years that we've had the high path avian influenza here in Pennsylvania.

What is the current status of high path AI here in the state?

Sure. Again, the first was the beginning part of... It's been several weeks now in a large commercial layer flock in Lancaster County. The thing about that is in that particular area, we put a couple control zones in. There's a five kilometer control zone and a 10 kilometer, and there's some different reasons for that. And I can get into that a little bit later, but because of the density of flocks, the number of commercial flocks in that area, there's 66 in that five kilometer, two and a half mile zone. So there's such a high prevalence of birds in that area that it's really serious. To date we've had all pretty much within the control zone, a total of seven flocks. Various species, some large layer flocks. We've had some broiler flocks, and most recently we've had a duck flock also.

So again, seven flocks, pretty close to running on four million birds that have been affected by that. From a positive standpoint, we're always looking for the positive, so far we have been keeping that zone fairly intact. All the positives have been in that area. We've been able working with the Department of Agriculture, USDA they've done a phenomenal job, have been working night and day. A significant amount of testing is going on, and we've been able to, most of those detections after that first flock have been detected with routine testing, surveillance testing. And that has given us the opportunity to address those flock very early, get them euthanized, put down. So the virus load can be kept to a minimum.

And the fast work of, again, the Department of Agriculture here in Pennsylvania, Secretary Redding and his crew. Dr. Brightbill, our State Vet, along with the folks from USDA has allowed us to really mitigate the significant virus loads that have affected the Pennsylvania poultry flock back in the early eighties. Have really been able to put it down because of the significant amount of surveillance testing that's being done at our lab here in Harrisburg, along with the diagnostic laboratory at Penn State and the diagnostic laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania vet school. So again we do have, not that is not insignificant those numbers, but considering the density of poultry in that particular area, we feel fortunate this time to have kept it to those seven flocks.

From your perspective, how has that collaboration been beneficial and what has been PennAg's role in some of this response?

Sure, and it takes a team. Since that first detection, and even before that, for a number of years... Animal agriculture is 75% of the agriculture in Pennsylvania. The idea of bio security is not a new one. It's been something that we've been preaching and working with our industry. Not just the poultry industry, which is almost seven and a half billion dollars in itself, but with the swine industry, with the small ruminant industry, with the dairy industry. All of those things trying to preach bio security, a lot of effort has gone into just the preparation, tabletop exercises in case of something like this. We've developed we have a Foamer Association when, when birds are humanely euthanized, in many cases, a foamer is used and we've had drills related to that.

But this was that day when we realized we had it and obviously a lot of anxiety. But with Secretary Redding's leadership and the leadership of both state and federal working with the industry through PennAg, we really addressed this. And in a matter of just hours from detection to beginning that process of trying to keep that virus load at a minimum, we were working together. PennAg has been playing an integral role in that. With many times discussing strategy with the Department of Agriculture, deputy secretary Greg Hostetter has been a tremendous help. And I've mentioned Dr. Brightbill and Secretary Redding, but coordinating the teams that ultimately work with the humane euthanasia of these flocks. There's a lot that goes into it to mitigate the amount of virus load that would get out into the general area.

In-house composting everything from how to do it to getting a carbon source to have an effective compost. So just a lot of moving parts. And it's not an eight to four job. I mean, a lot of this has happened coming up to Easter weekend, unfortunately. And having laboratories work through the holiday and work essentially 24-7 to see that this is addressed. It's been a monumental task. You realize as agriculture always is, how much they work together, competitors working with one another to get the job done. And PennAg is made up of a group of about 500 agribusiness companies. On most days they are competitors, but when we have an issue like this, everybody pulls together and says, okay, how can I help? And part of PennAg's responsibility has been to help pull that together and to pull resources together. And again, work with these regulatory agencies to get the job done.

Whether it's a commercial operation or a backyard flock, what steps can any farmer that has poultry take to prevent against high path AI, but then also be prepared in case the worst case does happen?

Right. Well, it takes everybody. There's enough virus on the head of a dime to essentially infect tens of millions of birds. When you put it in that perspective it becomes everybody's issue, whether are the owner or an operator of a six million bird laying operation, or whether or not you have a few backyard birds. And I think the key word today is bio security, and the basic understanding that you're part of this solution. You really are. And we need everybody to be vigilant. You need to be aware of what you're doing and where you're going. If you are leaving your dairy farm and going out to deliver grain to a mill, where you've been, and where you've been walking is equally important.

The whole idea of sanitizing tires and wearing booties, plastic boot coverings, when you're visiting farms. And just being aware of where you're going and who you're visiting and taking the necessary precautions. Again, all of agriculture is related and has a symbiotic relationship to one another. You may not have a bird on your property, but if you're delivering grain to a feed mill that ultimately is feeding a broiler flock or a layer flock, or a duck flock somewhere, you become part of that equation.

So just your basic understanding of bio security and you respect for it. We've spent a lot of time trying to educate folks through Lancaster farming. We've been running weekly advertisements, whether it's informing them about or informing readers about the avian flu. How to protect your flock. We've done a special notice on manure hauling. Here we are in the spring of the year, pits are full it's that time where we want to get our manure on before planting preparation. So what you do and how you go about it in your neighborhood is really important. So just that basic understanding, being aware of what's going on with your neighbors and doing your best to be part of the solution is critical.

Is there anything that industry professionals, or even frankly, consumers can do as far as helping to protect against the spread of disease?

Sure. It becomes everybody's issue. Everybody eats and you realize how connected agriculture is. And it becomes everybody's business, the recognition, something as simple as seeing a dead bird in your neighborhood, both the Game Commission and the Department of Agriculture have sick bird hotlines. In Pennsylvania, the first case of avian influenza was diagnosed in a bald eagle in Chester County. And someone had the foresight of recognizing here's a dead bald eagle. Let's call the line and let's get it tested. And lo and behold from that non-farm informed person we were able to detect and go on high alert, that avian influenza was in fact in Pennsylvania and not far from the center of the poultry industry.

So that recognition of seeing something that's a little odd. Seeing a dead bird and letting the authorities know, either the Game Commission or the Department of Agriculture can be a tremendous help. Beyond what you can do if you're visiting farms and understanding, it's likely that some of the field trips that your kids normally might have gone on to a farm aren't going to happen this year. Because everybody is taking the bio security issue to heart. And we're just going to have to make some changes in the way we operate for a while, until we get past this.

As we wrap up, is there anything else you'd like to share with our listeners here today?

Well, again, I've touched on some of these issues. I don't think it can be emphasized enough bio security on your farm. Being aware of where you're going and who you're interacting with. And I think we're always going to be we're coming out of this COVID age. But I think from a farm perspective, bio security has to be just part of the operation anymore. Again, whether you're raising grain, whether you have a dairy herd, or raising pigs, or chickens, just the basic principles of bio security need to be incorporated into your farm plan.

And again, it's not something that's going to come and go anymore. I think this is part of agriculture as we know it going forward. But really appreciate the opportunity to talk about this so much has been going on. And we've had so many partners in this, the Department of Agriculture here in Pennsylvania has done a phenomenal. Job along with USDA, our legislators have been very engaged in the discussion of this. And the needs of the Department of Agriculture and the needs of the industry. So many are part of what has been a tremendous team to pull this together and see it through.