A House committee heard testimony Tuesday from government officials and poultry producers, who reviewed this spring's avian flu disaster and talked about preparations for a potential outbreak this fall and winter. 

By the time the outbreak was finished with the onset of warmer temperatures, 9 million birds had been destroyed or died of the flu. There had been 110 sites under quarantine in 23 counties. 

The state Board of Animal Health, the lead agency on the bird flu issue, said the state has secured a facility for emergency operations in the flu hot zone for this coming year; is improving depopulation methods so they will happen in 24 to 48 hours of detection rather than over several days; is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to streamline processes to get farmers the help they need; has already contracted with poultry veterinarians to do biohazard reviews of farms; and, is assigning permanent case managers to operations detected with flu to guide them through the process. 

The Legislature appropriated about $7.4 million for the 2015 outbreak and future outbreaks. 

Poultry industry operators struck by the flu had starkly different stories of the government response. 

Barb Frank, who owns the Pullet Connection in Danube with her daughter and son-in-law, said her operation was never officially informed of the diagnosis, only to have workers begin showing up for depopulation. She said the USDA contractors were unskilled. "We were not allowed to use crews that knew what they were doing. I can assure you that if we had taken pictures of what was happening, there would be a different type of hearing going on," she said. 

Frank said once a Minnesota Dept. of Agriculture case manager was brought in, things improved, though her operation has yet to receive cleanup money, which she estimated has cost the farm $266,000. 

Steve Halstead, USDA district director for the upper Midwest, said the department fixed many of the problems, including contractors who were unable to pay overtime and rotating case managers.

Robert Orsten, a turkey producer in Willmar, had a different experience. "I think everyone pulled together and did the best we could with what we knew at the time," he said. His family farm has spent an estimated $1.5 million to $1.8 million out of pocket in hopes of passing the operation to the next generation. 

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