The Effects of Bird Flu Ripple Through One Iowa County, the Hardest Hit in the Nation

So Reyes started buying double the amount of food than she normally would for the agency’s food pantry.

“I know that families will keep coming,” Reyes said. “That’s why I just try to have it full here because how it comes and goes. The food goes very fast.”

On the mend 

It’s been about three months since the four Buena Vista County commercial poultry sites were hit by bird flu, but Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig said there has been a lot of progress with getting those operations and the other 15 affected commercial farms and backyard flocks back to normal.

“We are definitely on the tail end [of the outbreak] here in the state of Iowa,” Naig said in a recent interview.

At the four sites in Buena Vista County, producers have disposed of their birds, heavily cleaned, disinfected, and the facilities have been tested for any presence of the virus. All four have been approved to restock their flocks.

Naig said the road to recovery is different for every producer, and some may restock immediately while others will wait, depending on the supply of birds. He added financial recovery could take time and producers are “a couple months away from having new revenue come in.”

Producers can file claims for indemnity payments from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in order to be compensated for the destruction of their birds, the disposal and cleanup, “but it does not make a producer whole,” Naig said.

For Colin Johnson of Albert City, any income lost wasn’t his “greatest concern,” he said, because he also raises corn and soybeans. Johnson said the hardest moment for him was euthanizing his birds.

“Like a farmer when a beautiful field of corn gets hailed out and there’s nothing left, it just hits you in the gut,” he said. “But you gotta go on.”

And Johnson is about to get back to raising turkeys, with new baby turkeys scheduled to arrive on his farm soon.

“This will be a big day,” he said. “This one will be extra special, having gone through this whole process.”

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This story was produced in partnership with Harvest Public Media, a collaboration of public media newsrooms in the Midwest. It reports on food systems, agriculture and rural issues. Follow Harvest on Twitter: @HarvestPM