"It would be devastating, it would be very devastating,” says Stephen Shepard, Live Operations Manager for Miller Poultry.
That’s how he describes what avian influenza would do to their Indiana and Michigan based poultry operations. Miller poultry classifies their farm as small. Even though you can find their products across the country, they feed a niche market, one outbreak would cut deep.
“If we were to get hit, on site, a farm like this, a broiler farm, we would have to depopulate all the birds, and then we wouldn't be able to sell anything in a 10 mile radius,” he explains.
Fortunately, Miller Poultry has escaped any threat thus far, but they're still on high alert.
“We're in a code orange, which means we've stepped up biosecurity. There’s a risk, but not an immediate risk,” says Shepard.
That means they are taking extra precautions like wearing boots on all farms, coveralls inside the barns and spraying off trucks before they even enter a farm site. And since Miller Poultry has a lot of Amish growers, their communication is always taken a step further.
“It’s a little more challenging [working with the Amish], but it's also a benefit because they don’t have as many outside visitors coming in to farms and different things like that,” says Shepard. “So, we see it as a benefit. And we mostly communicate to them via mail."
So far, all their efforts are working. But that's not the case for all poultry farms, as outbreaks continue to spread. And while the industry fears immediate damage, Rabo AgriFinance's Don Close doesn't think this is the PEDv of poultry this year.
“Given the time of year, and given the reversal of migratory bird flows, and because the incidents of the disease calms down through the warmer weather months, I think we'll dodge the bullet.
Many of these cases have occurred in the main migratory paths. Shepard says location is one item that's playing to their advantage.
“Location wise, we're not in any of the Flyaways, so we're not as concerned as companies in Arkansas and Missouri,” he says.
The bigger worry in all of this is the impact on trade.
“Where it is really concerning, the list is currently 40 plus countries, at least, temporarily banned imports of U.S. poultry, and given the supply of total poultry on the year, if that were to go on for a prolonged period of time, it could be an issue,” says Close.
Several other countries are also battling avian flu, including the United States' number one buyer: Mexico, but one area that could come out on top is South America.
“You've got record production in Brazil,” says Close. “So, that's largely where that competitive supply will be."
Close says finding an incentive for people to come back to the U.S. market could be a long-term issue, but an increased appetite could help this year.
“That's always a dicey situation to convince some of those countries to come back to the table,” says Close. “But given where we're at with the global demand, we're so much better with demand than we've been in years past.”
For Shepard, he can't worry about tomorrow.
“We preach biosecurity daily,” he says.
It’s their increased efforts going on today that could save their farms from those potential devastating outbreaks.