Lessons Learned from Avian Influenza Back »

An 11% reduction in South Dakota's turkey population due to the recent avian influenza outbreak will surely have economic ripple effects.
Stephen Ausmus, USDA

For those associated with animal agriculture in general, poultry production has always been the epitome of biosecurity. Visits to poultry farms are by appointment only, and change of clothes and/or protective garment and disposable plastic boots are the norm. The first episode of Avian Influenza diagnosed the first week of March 2015 in Minnesota took everyone by surprise. In the months since then and as of the first week of June it had spread to 84 additional sites. The first diagnosis in South Dakota took place the first week of April followed by 9 additional sites in the same timeframe. Turkey farms were hit the hardest in both states with 93% and 90% of the outbreaks in Minnesota and South Dakota, respectively.

Impending economic impact

Both eggs and turkey production make significant contributions to South Dakota's economy. During 2014 the state's laying hen farms produced 752 million eggs worth almost $63.3 million. The state turkey farms raised 4.5 million birds with a total value of almost $139 million. At the present time only one farm of layer chickens was diagnosed. As of the first week of June nearly half million turkeys were affected in 9 farms and 9 different counties in the state. Since this affected nearly 11% of the commercial turkeys produced in the state the economic impact can be estimated at close to $15 million. To put this into perspective our neighbor state Minnesota led the country in turkey production in 2014, with 45.5 million turkeys and an economic value of $866 million. As of early May 2015, the disease had been confirmed in 85 Minnesota turkey farms, resulting in the direct loss of nearly 5.7 million birds in the state. Oddly enough this represents 12.5% of the turkey population in that state a figure only slightly off the 11% losses in South Dakota.

These dollar figures for bird losses in the state do not take into account the fact that the affected facilities will have to remain empty while they undergo a rigorous disinfection and cleaning process. An 11% reduction in the population of turkeys in South Dakota will surely also have ripple effects. Reductions in farm supplies and feed purchases, and employee layoffs at both farms and poultry processing plants will certainly affect local businesses. The University of Minnesota conducted this year an emergency economic analysis and determined that this reduction in the local economic output from the poultry industry can be quantified by a 1.8 reduction factor. That is to say that the $15 million resulting from direct turkey sale losses could have a collective economic impact in all 9 counties of $27 million. In its analysis the University of Minnesota also found that each job lost in poultry affected negatively 2.1 jobs in the state overall.

How this outbreak evolves in time is anyone’s guess at this point. The losses are substantial for the state overall as well as for local businesses and communities that support this industry.

The importance of biosecurity

The Avian Influenza outbreaks have shown that in spite of very stringent biosecurity measures adapted by the poultry industry, animal agriculture is still vulnerable to disease outbreaks. This time it was poultry, but there might be other instances in the future where other livestock species could be affected by disease. It is important to remain vigilant and report any suspicious animal health problems (farmed or wildlife!) to the proper authorities. The state is very fortunate to have within SDSU the South Dakota Animal Disease Research and Diagnostic Laboratory that has been very helpful up to this point. This lab is one of fewer than 40 veterinary diagnostic laboratories accredited by the American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians.

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