With avian influenza taking a terrible toll on egg laying operations to the west, Ohio has moved to the top of the list of egg production by state.
“We were No. 2. and Ohio is now the No. 1 egg producing state in the country. Darke County just went to the No. 1 egg producing county in the country,” said Sam Custer, Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension educator in Darke County.
The loss of upwards of 44 million birds in nearly 200 different locations, many in Iowa and Minnesota, devastated the U.S. egg industry and is still sending economic shockwaves throughout agriculture. Though summer heat has slowed down the highly contagious pathogen, Ohio poultry producers remain on high alert.
“I think we have probably survived this spring. The warm temperatures have really slowed the virus from spreading. Waterfowl do carry the virus and there will be more concern when the birds start migrating in the fall. Each spring and fall are a concern for us for the next three to five years. We hope that mutation will change the virus to something not as severe as what we are seeing with the current virus,” Custer said. “Biosecurity in Ohio is at a whole new level compared to some of the states out west. It has only increased. You’ll see poultry farms with concrete barriers directing all foot and vehicle traffic to a central location to be sprayed with a disinfectant to kill the virus both going in and out. Guys are really watching it. If we would get an outbreak, guys would not leave the farm. They are still going to church, but that will change if there is an outbreak.”
As the current top producing egg state, an avian influenza outbreak in Ohio would have major economic implications.
“In Ohio, if we lost six months of production for half of our birds you’d look at 10% less corn consumed over all. It would really affect our grain market,” Custer said. “When we look at Ohio and our poultry production, and if we get avian influenza — and many people say it is not if but when — we are looking at up to a $1.8 billion loss per year. If we get an outbreak in this area, it would be devastating to both Darke and Mercer counties. Our concentration of poultry is very high. We hate to see this poultry show ban for our junior fair exhibitors, but what a great learning experience for them to be able to see the big picture. Agriculture is the No. 1 industry in Ohio and we have to protect that.”
There are many logistical concerns with avian influenza as well.
“There are big questions about how you dispose of 2.5 million birds from a facility. In Iowa layer operations, they are still trying to remove birds that have been dead for four to six weeks, so you can only imagine that process,” he said. “After three to four months it is possible to repopulate, which is what they are doing in Minnesota. The virus is fairly easy to kill with disinfectant once the building is emptied. But sometimes getting to all of the virus can be complicated. We also look at how that will affect swine producers as the animals in those areas of the quarantine will probably not be able to be moved either.”
Some parts of the country are seeing egg shortages and increased prices as local supplies are feeling the crunch of reduced layer numbers nationwide. For now, the nation’s new top egg producer is preparing for the worst this fall and hoping to remain free from the devastation of avian influenza through increased biosecurity, vigilance and cooperation at the farm, county and state levels.