The Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) virus has

The Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) virus has spread throughout 32 states and crop farmers are being asked to do their part in helping to prevent the spread of the disease. (Photo credit: Iowa Soybean Association)

Crop farmers can help prevent the spread of HPAI

May 12, 2022 | Kriss Nelson

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) virus has taken flight again, affecting poultry stock in 32 states.

There has been evidence most of the positive cases have been due to wild bird introductions rather than farm-to-farm lateral transmissions.

Iowa Egg Council Executive Director Kevin Stiles says if there is anything good to say about this year’s HPAI outbreak are the lessons learned from seven years ago.

“Our farmers learned from 2015,” he says. “Farmers invested money and resources into improving their biosecurity best practices. I am very proud of our farmers, organization and industry for our progress.”

Stiles says biosecurity on the state’s poultry farms is at its highest operational levels and will remain at that rigorous level of protection for the foreseeable future.

“We are in close contact with USDA and the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, and we are grateful for their support,” says Stiles.

Preventing the spread 

In addition to poultry farmers doing what they can to slow the spread of HPAI, crop farmers can also play a part.

Driving around Iowa this spring, you cannot help but notice the number of migrating birds in the sky and on the ground. The migrating geese, ducks and other wild birds will often stop in a farm field for rest and a meal. While there, they naturally leave feces in the field.

According to the Iowa Turkey Federation, recent testing has shown that up to 40% of the migrating wild birds carry HPAI. This is how the virus can spread to turkeys and egg layers on the farm.

Research has also shown the avian influenza virus can survive for more than a month in bird droppings in cold weather and for nearly a week in warmer temperatures. 

Dried bird droppings in the fields and can potentially become aerosolized when the soil is disturbed. This allows the virus to spread via dust in the wind.

What can crop farmers do to help prevent the spread of HPAI to Iowa’s turkeys and layers?

  1. Consider the location of your neighbor’s barns while deciding when to work a field.
  2. Check what direction the wind is blowing. Is it possible to arrange fieldwork to days the wind is not blowing toward the barns?
  3. Communicate with your neighbors. If they know you will be working the field, they may be able to mitigate the risk.

 "I appreciate Iowa crop farmers’ awareness of the current avian influenza outbreak,” says Ben Slinger, Iowa Turkey Federation president and Ellsworth farmer. Being cognitive of their field location and talking to us before they disturb the fields really helps enhance our farms’ biosecurity.”

Effects on the soybean industry

Regardless of the extent of HPAI, there is no doubt it will impact Iowa’s soybean industry, Stiles says.

Iowa is the No. 1 in egg production, where one out of every six eggs produced in the country comes from the state.

In a 2019 Iowa Egg Industry report, he says Iowa layer hens consumed 531,320 tons of soybeans alone

“Currently, we are down 20% in layer numbers. That is going to have an impact,” Stiles says. “We hope this is a short-term impact on soybean usage in Iowa.”

Food safety and HPAI 

Stiles said there are no food safety concerns with HPAI, so consumers can be confident it is safe to consume poultry products.

“We want to reassure people this is an animal health disease and cannot be transmitted through eggs, meat or any type of poultry product,” he says.