LANCASTER, Pa. — Last year’s outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian flu in the Pacific Northwest and Midwest yielded plenty of lessons for poultry producers.
USDA is incorporating those lessons into its planning for the next time it has to indemnify poultry farm owners following an outbreak.
Chrislyn Wood, a veterinarian with USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and Greg Martin, a Penn State Extension poultry specialist, discussed how that will affect producers’ flock plans on Monday at a Penn State Poultry Health Seminar.
The topic drew a large crowd, which filled the meeting room at the Eden Resort in Lancaster.
“There have been a lot of updates” to the requirements to qualify for USDA payments, Wood said. “We wanted to streamline the process so farmers can get paid quickly and there is less confusion.”
A total of 211 commercial and 21 backyard poultry operations were hit by avian flu through the summer of 2015, resulting in the depopulation of 7.5 million turkeys and 42.1 million chickens at a cost to the industry of about $950 million.
Farmers who suspect an outbreak of avian flu need to contact their state department of agriculture or the USDA so samples can be collected.
One of the duplicate samples is sent to the local veterinary lab, which for Pennsylvania is one of the labs in the Pennsylvania Animal Diagnostic Laboratory System in State College, Harrisburg or Kennett Square.
A second set is sent to the National Veterinary Services Lab in Ames, Iowa.
Results are normally available in a couple of hours. If avian flu is confirmed at the first lab, depopulation will begin immediately. The second test at the Iowa lab is needed as a confirmation for foreign animal disease response plans.
“Our goal is to depopulate in 24 hours,” Wood said.
There were several suspected cases in Pennsylvania last summer. As the first tests were processed at the state lab system, the Pennsylvania APHIS office was preparing for a jet in case the duplicate samples needed to be flown to Iowa for confirmation.
Fortunately, the tests were all negative for highly pathogenic avian influenza.
USDA will assign a case manager to work with the grower if avian flu is confirmed.
“You are not in this by yourself,” Wood said. USDA can provide compensation for the birds and eggs that must be destroyed.
It will also pay for the depopulation, disposal and cleaning process to eliminate the virus from the farm, but only if the farm has a flock plan on file.
USDA will not cover the cost for lost time or disruptions to the business operation.
Good recordkeeping to document the value of the birds and eggs that are lost is important to back up claims for compensation.
USDA has changed its payment program to split the compensation between the contract grower and the poultry company.
The first form a poultry producer will have to submit is an appraisal and indemnity request in which the producer agrees to accept fair market value for the birds.
If it’s a contract operation, a similar form will have to be signed by the poultry company.
These forms allow the depopulation process to begin without debating over the value of the birds or eggs.
More detailed forms — including the fair market values for the live birds and eggs — will be drawn up by APHIS.
Another change is a requirement for commercial flocks to register with Dun & Bradstreet’s Data Universal Numbering System. It takes about 10 days to receive a DUNS number.
During the last outbreak, personal and financial information was being sent through unsecured electronic channels. The new system will avoid that.
Once producers receive their DUNS numbers, they can register with the federal government’s System for Award Management, or SAM. Payments are issued about two to three weeks after the required information has been filed.
“You can get a DUNS number at any time,” Wood said. That number will then permanently be assigned to the farm. The SAM number has to be updated annually.
Producers with smaller, backyard flocks can still use paper applications by applying for a program exemption. Plain sect farmers can file for religious exemptions.
To receive compensation for depopulation, disposal and cleanup, a farmer must have a flock plan on file. The plan is not required for indemnity payments for the birds and eggs that have to be destroyed .
The flock plan details how a farm will manage an outbreak, or as Wood said, “What are you going to do and how are you going to do it.”
She said the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has been working with the state’s poultry industry to encourage farms to file their plans.
Farmers can let USDA handle the cleanup or they can receive compensation if they choose to handle the depopulation and disposal of the birds themselves.
The indemnity payments will cover only those activities described in the flock plan along with the cost to replace materials that have to be disposed of because they cannot be cleaned.
Wood said the most effective cleaning and disinfection process seems to be a “dry cleaning” followed by heating the house to 100-120 degrees for seven days.
Dry cleaning involves the removal of organic materials from the facility, and disassembling and reassembling waterers and other systems.
The indemnity program will not cover regular maintenance costs.
Martin said the flock plan should be a part of a larger management plan for the farm. Penn State’s ReadyAg website provides information to help farmers draft an emergency plan.
These plans help farmers prepare for more unexpected catastrophes than just disease outbreaks. Martin pointed to the recent F2 tornado that struck a poultry operation in southern Lancaster County as an example.
No farmer wants a disaster, but they can happen. A plan will lay everything out “so you are not thumbing through a phone book in the middle of the night,” Martin said.
Such plans specify the method that will be used to depopulate the operation, including backup methods, and how the facility will be cleaned and disinfected.
They also need to address biosecurity, although “biosecurity is more of an attitude than a practice,” Martin said.
To foster that attitude, a farm needs a biosecurity coordinator who monitors on-farm activities and holds regular training sessions to teach the most effective biosecurity practices.
Recordkeeping is also an important component of a plan, and those records need to include a date and time stamp and be signed.
“It’s proof that you had a plan before the birds got sick,” Martin said.
The plan should also outline how access to the poultry complex will be handled during a disease outbreak to minimize traffic entering and leaving the farm.
Some farmers have been building larger aprons at the poultry barn to improve washing and disinfection facilities for trucks and other equipment.
Those who have multiple livestock enterprises need to develop secure supply plans for their other species.
If there is an avian flu outbreak, farmers will need to know how they can get the required permits to keep their other products moving, Martin said.
Farmers will also need to provide adequate protective clothing for visitors who have to enter the barns during an emergency.
For more information about USDA’s flock plan and avian flu indemnity requirements, visit http://1.usa.gov/2607R2E.