Contract poultry growers in the U.S. remain vulnerable as they await the possible arrival of the avian flu to make its appearance in the fall migration. Having started in September, the migration could continue through March 2016, and the avian flu is likely to appear in all U.S. flyways. Two Mississippi senators recently made a call to action knowing the issues poultry growers and the industry face.

U.S. Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker, along with eight other senators from Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Georgia, signed a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack requesting action be taken to guarantee the sustainability of the poultry industry should outbreaks of avian flu occur this fall. These actions touch on the financial vulnerability growers face due to indemnity payment regulations; and request financial flexibility to growers in devastating cases and offer special remedies to prevent foreclosures. The letter was signed November 5, and submitted as the U.S. Department of Agriculture implements its Fall 2015 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) Preparedness and Response Plan.

Under current USDA regulations, there is no compensation for poultry growers in the event of destruction of flocks due to infection of HPAI. The USDA compensates owners for such losses; however its current regulations do not take growers into consideration, in the case of contract broiler operations.

The USDA delivered over $190 million in indemnification payments to producers from the HPAI outbreaks earlier this year. However, contract poultry growers were not reimbursed for their losses under the indemnification program.

Poultry industry warned not to let guard down amid delayed migration season

At the Delmarva Poultry Industry, Inc. (DPI) National Meeting on Poultry Health, Processing, and Live Production, held on October 13, Tom DiLiberto of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spoke on the role of wildlife regarding HPAI. During his presentation DiLiberto discussed the importance of migratory patterns of birds and how patterns are not just dependent on species but the year and the environmental conditions that persist. Movements of birds are not as simple as often portrayed, he added.

“This year we have an abnormal environmental year from a migratory bird stand point. Much warmer summer and fall; we have yet to see big arctic air masses pushing south, thus migration has been delayed. Reality is we are early in migration season to let down our guard and should keep that in mind as we move further into the season. The longer the birds are intermingling in Canada, the greater the chance for transmission among larger number of birds that could increase prevalence of [highly pathogenic] viruses as they move south,” said DiLiberto.

In June Vilsack addressed a congressional oversight committee regarding allocating funds for an insurance program for farmers affected by avian influenza. Vilsack said he thinks such an insurance program was left off the most current farm bill for budgetary reasons.

Poultry growers have the option to purchase an avian influenza business interruption and loss of income insurance policy. Each policy should be reviewed to ensure it covers all subtypes of HPAI. The DPI has provided this, and other tips for poultry growers who are considering avian influenza business interruption and loss of income insurance.

The USDA has continued to stress the importance of prevention as part of avian flu preparedness, urging growers to implement a biosecurity program with their flocks as a preventative measure.