While highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) has affected 17 commercial poultry flocks involving more than 4.2 million birds in Pennsylvania in 2022, at least one banker in the region says there have been no changes in attitudes about confidence in the financial stability of the poultry industry.

“Honestly, our focus as an ag department at the bank has not changed with our stance on poultry because of avian flu,” said Dale Hershey, senior vice president and director of agricultural lending, Univest Bank and Trust Co. “We have not felt like we need to take a pause on lending to the industry. We haven’t thought, ‘boy, I don’t know if we want to put any more money into poultry farms or poultry operations.”

All of the HPAI-affected farms in Pennsylvania have been in either Lancaster County or Berks County, and the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA) recently announced an indemnity program in which the state has allocated $31 million to help poultry producers recover from HPAI-related losses. For the first round, poultry producers could apply for up to $100,000 to mitigate their losses.

Should those funds not be sufficient to cover costs, poultry producers could have the option to approach lenders, such as Univest.

But Hershey indicated there haven’t been many producers come forward seeking loans, and that most of them have solid lines of credit.

Advertisement

“Most of these guys are pretty diversified. The farms that were hit with it, they have other sources of income. They aren’t solely dependent on the chickens, and they were able to get through. You’re not going to see any farms going out of business or being sold.”

Hershey noted that the 2022 outbreak is the first of its kind for the state since 1981. He credits both the producers and the PDA for implementing strong biosecurity measures and taking the needed precautions. Mistakes made 41 years ago were not made again.

It could seem unlikely that another 41 years will pass before Pennsylvania has another HPAI outbreak, but Hershey’s confidence in the industry remains strong.

We’re honestly bullish on the poultry industry. It’s been a good industry. We currently have farms tha are expanding. We have chicken houses under construction as we speak. … It’s still a solid industry,” Hershey said.

“It’s probably going to happen again. It’s always a threat and it will continue to be a threat,” Hershey said.“