It seems like every day brings news of a fresh outbreak of bird flu. With millions of birds (turkeys, chickens and pheasants) now culled from U.S. flocks, will the grain and soy markets be affected? And if so, how much?
Pro Farmer Editorial Director Chip Flory, also host of Market Rally radio, tackled those very questions in an April 29 webinar on AgWeb, where he was joined by Dr. Thomas Elam of FarmEcon and Dr. Henry Wan of Mississippi State University, where Dr. Wan studies avian influenza.
You can read the highlights of their conversation below, but you may also want to listen to the full recording.
How many birds have been affected?
As of April 28, more than 15 million birds in 91 flocks have been lost because of outbreaks of avian influenza, according to Dr. Tom Elam of FarmEcon LLC. That includes commercial losses of nearly 4 million turkeys in 68 flocks and 11.4 million chickens in 10 flocks. A handful of backyard flocks of chicken, pheasants and other birds have been culled as well.
What is the impact on the grain markets?
Negligible. Dr. Elam looked at bird flu losses and feed usage statistics and concluded that feed losses currently add up to 319,037 million tons. When compared to overall feed numbers, that lost feed only represents .17% of total U.S. feed usage.
What about corn, specifically?
The impact is quite small, with bird culling only reducing corn usage by 9.2 million bushels, according to Elam. (Today’s webinar initially stated the figure at a higher level due to an inadvertent mathematical error.)
How does this bird flu situation compare to the PED virus in the hog industry?
Even if bird losses tripled, the impact on feed would still be less than the PED virus. The outbreak of that disease cost producers 4 million pigs, which translated into a .74% loss in feed usage.
What’s the impact of this disease on the poultry and livestock industry?
“Significant,” according to Dr. Elam. Producers have lost 135.9 million market eggs or 1.62% of this year’s total production. “This is a huge loss to the egg industry,” he said.
Won’t insurance cover these losses?
Perhaps, but it depends on the situation. Dr. Elam said indemnity programs only cover birds that are alive when a flock is depopulated; producers will not receive a payment for any birds that have already died from the deadly virus. Additionally, the payments only cover the current market value of the bird when it is culled, not the lifetime value of when it goes to market.
Will this bird flu ever go away?
Experts think it will likely fade in the summer, only to return in the fall as wildfowl begin their seasonal migration patterns.
What can people do to prevent the spread of this virus?
Practice good biosecurity, whether you’re a poultry farmer, hunter or someone who comes into contact with wild and domestic birds. Dr. Henry Wan, an associate professor at Mississippi State University, recommends washing your hands, cleaning your boots (or using separate pairs for inside poultry houses and outside the houses), and watching for signs of avian influenza. If you find a bird that is infected or seems suspicious to you, don’t touch it or dispose of it yourself—let local authorities know so they can take appropriate action.
Do people need to worry about getting this bird flu?
There has been no human case of H5N2 identified, according to Dr. Wan, who studies avian influenza. Heat and ultraviolet rays can kill the virus, so well-cooked meat and eggs are safe to eat. If you handle raw poultry, make sure to wash your hands well afterwards—which, of course, is a common sense practice recommended by doctors to keep people healthy.
What are your thoughts on bird flu? Have you adjusted any practices at your farm because of concerns about the virus? Let us know on the AgWeb discussion boards.