WASHINGTON – The bird flu oubreak in Minnesota took center stage Tuesday at a House hearing focused on financial uncertainties for the nation’s farmers.
The president of the Minnesota Farm Bureau, Kevin Paap of Blue Earth County, told a subcommittee of the House Agriculture Committee of the epidemic’s “incredible ripple effects affecting the bigger economy.”
The lethal H5N2 outbreak has affected 45 million birds in 15 states, with Iowa and Minnesota the hardest hit. The flu hit even closer to home this week for Paap, who is a corn and soybean farmer, when a farm 4 miles away was put under watch for the infection.
Overall in Minnesota, the nation’s largest turkey-producting state, more than 100 farms have been hit, wiping out 10 percent of the state’s annual turkey production. Egg farms also have been hit.
Paap told the panel that a University of Minnesota study estimated that the state had lost $113.6 million in poultry production as of early May. The loss for the overall Minnesota economy had hit $310 million at that point, and 800 jobs had been affected.
Subcommittee member Tim Walz, D-Minn., said Minnesota and the Midwest face a“calamity.”
Walz said the bird flu places both financial and emotional strain on farmers. It doesn’t take a flock testing positive to be impacted by the stress. Just knowing that the possibility of lost income is out there is a burden, he said.
“We will continue to fight to ensure the resources are in place to combat this epidemic and any other disaster that comes our way,” Walz said.
When a farm is hit by the flu, all birds must be destroyed to prevent the virus’ spread. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a budget of $330 million to reimburse farmers for the healthy birds that are killed.
In hard times, risk management tools are crucial for farmers and the best thing Congress can provide, Paap said. As an example, Paap cited the crop insurance program.
“Crop insurance allows me to use my growing crops as collateral,” he explained. “Crop insurance is my banker’s best friend.”
In his testimony, Paap also addressed other financial concerns in Minnesota agriculture. He noted that there are lower commodity prices for crops but overhead costs such as land rent, seeds and fertilizer are not coming down. That means producers are losing money.