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What effect could bird flu have on Idaho's dairy economy? Experts weigh in

Posted at 7:56 PM, May 10, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-10 21:56:33-04

TWIN FALLS IDAHO — Dairy accounts for a third of Idaho’s agricultural economy, and with Idaho being one of nine states where avian influenza has been found in dairy cattle, producers are cautious but hopeful. Channel 6 asked experts in the local dairy industry what we need to know.

  • Three Idaho herds have been confirmed infected with Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) since March. Two more herds are suspected to be infected.
  • An infected herd will generally cycle through the virus in two weeks.
  • Cow mortality is not high, but milk production can drop by 20%, which has some in the dairy industry nervous about reduced incomes.
  • Voluntary bio-security measures are standard in Idaho's dairy industry, as producers are keen on protecting their animals from infection.

(Below is the transcript from the broadcast story)

Back in March, the public was made aware of the first detection of highly pathogenic avian influenza, or bird flu, in Idaho dairy cattle.

Since then, we've learned that it's affected at least three herds, with two more suspected of having contracted it, all of which are following voluntary isolation protocols.

I spoke to Department of Agriculture Director Chanel Tewalt, who said the main concern with these cattle having the bird flu was its possible impact to the economy.

"It's not that cattle are so sick that we're going to have mortality events,” Tewalt told me. “It’s that the production decreases to a point that we're concerned about an overall dairy operation and the health of the dairy in terms of the economic impact."

So far, the voluntary efforts within the industry are aimed at containing and preventing spread of the virus.

"In Idaho, we have a coordinated approach with our counterpart at the health department to make sure that we are doing everything we can but today,” Tewalt said. ”The data tells us this remains an on-farm issue."

Unlike in poultry, avian influenza doesn't have a high mortality rate in cows, but what it does do is cause a drop in milk production of up to 20%.

"That dairy producer definitely notices that decrease in milk production, decrease in revenue,” said Rick Naerebout from the Idaho Dairyman's Association.

Naerebout told me the farmers would feel a pinch, but your wallet will likely not be affected.

"Our industry is large enough that the consumers are not going to see any sort of disruption that (the public) would notice in the grocery store," Naerebout said.

So what's being done to fix this flu problem?

As understanding of avian influenza's interaction with other species becomes more understood, responses to infections and prevention of transmission are adapting.

"If there's anything certain in agriculture that things always change all the time,” CSI Agriculture Instructor Jaysa Fillmore told Idaho News 6.

Fillmore said she's seen lots of strict protocols being followed by producers, which is giving the next generation of dairy producers a look at the latest standards for controlling the spread of infections like this

“We are constantly evolving our response to threats, our adoption of new technologies, so I don't think it's going to cause any big disruption in the industry,” Fillmore said. “It's good for students and for the public to know that we have safeguards in place."

As for the milk itself?

"We know that pasteurization takes care of any concern with regard to dairy products any of those products that that you're consuming are completely safe," Naerebout said.