Iowa hit a milestone in its avian influenza recovery this week by lifting the last quarantine on a commercial poultry farms affected by the virus. A Sac County turkey farm can now begin repopulation.
Commercial facilities hit by avian flu are required to wait three weeks after disinfection before they can repopulate. Seventy-two Iowa sites were affected by the 2015 bird flu outbreak, and more than 31 million birds were killed.
Researchers and industry experts anticipated possible new outbreaks this fall with the return of migrating birds, which were suspected of introducing the virus to domesticated flocks. So far the USDA says there have been no outbreaks of the disease in poultry since June, but the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship warns producers to keep alert.
"We're not through the migration seasons yet," says Ag Secretary Bill Northey. "It is important to keep that surveillance up and certainly keep hoping we do not see any impact on those domestic flocks this fall. But ever if we don't we certainly could see the concern again next spring."
Before avian flu, Iowa was the leading egg producer in the U.S., producing 1.38 billion eggs during September of 2014. But according to a USDA report released Friday, for the first time since September 2000, Iowa came in second nationwide for egg production. Ohio chickens laid 739 million eggs this past September, or 7 million more eggs than Iowa birds.
Randy Olson of the Iowa Poultry Association says egg-laying facilities in the state likely won’t be operating at pre-bird flu levels until 2017.
"That's really primarily due to the available pullet supply and hatching chick supply," says Olson. "Our farmers are really doing all that they can to get their farms back up to normal level. But this process will take just a little bit of time."
Currently there are nearly 33.9 million laying hens in the state. In 2014, Iowa laying hens numbered more than 59.5 million.
There are five backyard poultry operations that remain under quarantine. Unlike commercial facilities, the USDA requires these producers to wait a roughly about six months before they populate. IDALS expects the quarantine to be lifted for these producers in the next month.