By John Lauritsen

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The bird flu this past spring cost the turkey industry in the Upper Midwest nearly half a billion dollars.

And nearly 50 million turkeys and chickens were killed in order to try and stop the spread.

The good news is, here in Minnesota, we haven’t seen a case of the bird flu in nearly three months.

But experts are worried the cooler months ahead could allow the flu to make a comeback.

“This is the worst animal disease outbreak this country has ever seen,” said John Zimmerman of P & J Products. “For me personally, we have never seen anything like this before.”

At his turkey farm near Northfield, Zimmerman produces about 4 million pounds of turkey a year. He was lucky this past spring. His flock wasn’t hit by the bird flu. And he’s doing everything he can to stay lucky.

Biosecurity has become a priority.

“We are talking at the end of the driveway now,” Zimmerman said. “We don’t allow unnecessary personnel on our farms anymore. We used to wash our boots, now we change our boots. We change our coveralls. We use a lot more disinfecting of equipment.”

While farmers like Zimmerman deal with the unknown, it’s believed the flu is connected to ducks and geese. With those birds getting ready to migrate this fall, the turkey industry remains on high alert.

“The industry has probably been busier the last two or three months preparing for fall than we were during the height of the crisis because there are still a lot of unknowns of how this spread and how it got into the barns,” Zimmerman said. “With ducks and geese getting ready to migrate, the chances of reintroduction are there again.”

But there are signs that Minnesota turkey farms are returning to normal. Quarantines have been lifted and farms have repopulated. Zimmerman and others are hoping that as healthy birds return, the flu stays away.

“Nobody wants to go through putting their birds down,” Zimmerman said. “That’s the worst, possible thing. When you put your time, money and livelihood into raising these birds, and then you have to kill them. It’s a terrible thing.”

Zimmerman also wants to remind people that with the State Fair around the corner, that meat quality is not impacted in any way by the flu.

So he’s hoping people continue to visit the turkey booth and buy turkey products.

John Lauritsen