Avian Flu's Emotional Toll on Producers

June 2, 2015 01:33 PM
Avian Flu's Emotional Toll on Producers

So far, 102 Minnesota farms have tested positive for avian flu. In all, a quarter of Minnesota’s counties are reporting the disease. Beyond the numbers, this outbreak is forcing families and communities face to face with disaster.

“Right there, I’m Meeker County Five,” said Minnesota turkey grower, Greg Langmo of Langmo Farms.

Meeker County Five is a title that Minnesota turkey grower, Greg Langmo will never forget.

“You can see that cluster of high concentration,” said Langmo.

Highly pathogenic avian flu began ravaging that part of Minnesota in March. In April, Greg got the call.

“My manager called and said that the birds don’t look right,” said Langmo.

The birds were here at a barn where just a few month earlier, he had stood proudly, sharing a moment with his father, mother and sister.

This time, it was quiet by late Friday. By Sunday, the state confirmed their fears.

“Of course by then it was clear mortality had gone from a couple a day to well over 100,” said Langmo.

That’s 34,000 turkeys gone and now buried.

“To see them go from bright red and blue heads and white smooth feathers to just a carpet of dead--there’s nothing to compare. You can think of it as an invisible disaster,” said Langmo.

For this life-long farmer and bird lover, the toughest part was being forced to the sideline.

“That’s what’s been so frustrating for me. I couldn’t stop it,” said Langmo.

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Today the barns stand empty, but the clean-up continues. With everything considered contaminated, the process is extensive both inside and out.

“(It’s difficult) trying to set up clean and dirty boundaries and disciplining you and your staff that anything that comes across here, here’s the protocol on that. That’s also if you’re going to the mailbox. It doesn’t matter,” said Langmo.

Then there’s the cost. He’s already spent five times what he normally would to clean a barn--plus that farm will see year-end revenues drop 30% to 40%. Regardless of the financial hit, Greg is steadfast about keeping his team employed.

“We’ve made the commitment that we’re going  to spend the checkbook to zero. We’re going to spend every dime we have. We’re going to keep all of our staff on a full-pay,” said Langmo.

Rebuilding without help isn’t an option. Right now, he’s just ready to finish cleaning and put Meeker County Five on the map to recovery.

“I have farms that are clean, and virtually every time the phone rings, if it’s one of my staff I say, ‘Uh oh.’ We are very thankful for very patient and understanding neighbors,” said Langmo.

 Greg says he’s ready to get more birds as soon as he gets the clear from USDA. As far as financial help, he says USDA is issuing indemnity payments to impacted growers. He’ll get paid for 13 week old birds, but it’s only about half the weight the turkeys would have been. He says there is no private insurance nor does the government offer any revenue protection programs. Right now he and other growers are more concerned about this fall and winter when wild birds once again migrate South.

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