By John Lauritsen

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A year after the bird flu outbreak in Minnesota, turkey farmers remain on high alert.

Last year’s outbreak killed 9 million birds in the state and cost more than $650 million.

There hasn’t been any sign of the flu since last June, and farmers are hoping to keep it that way.

“As I talked to guys that have been in the business for five decades, they’ve never seen anything like this either. It got to the point where they didn’t know what they could do to stop it,” said Steve Olson, executive director of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association.

One hundred and eight farms had to depopulate their flocks, clean and disinfect, and then restock. This process took some as long as four months. But by December, Olson said all farms were back on track.

“We’re getting back to normal. We expect that we should have full production this year,” said Olson.

But protocol for farmers has drastically changed. Biosecurity is a priority.

Since the bird flu is believed to be spread by waterfowl, security measures are designed to keep ducks and geese out of barns — and turkeys in. Farmers are also testing their flocks more often. More money has been put into testing labs in Willmar and in emergency procedures in the event of another outbreak.

“This was certainly a game changer,” said Olson.

Despite no signs of the virus right now, Olson said the entire turkey industry remains on alert.

“We don’t know whether we’re out of the woods. We talked to the bird health experts, they’re saying this is a virus that they expect to be in the environment for three to five years. So that’s kind of the mindset that we have,” said Olson.

Olson added that if a flock does test positive for the bird flu, the farmer has 24 hours to depopulate.

The National Guard has also added a mobile testing lab in the event of another outbreak.

The state has adopted a triple layered process for the bird flu.

Peacetime is the time of year when the virus is not around.

Alert status means the time of year when the virus could resurface.

Wartime is when the virus has been found in flocks.

John Lauritsen