Turkey production recovers from flu bout

Gov. Mark Dayton and Lt. Gov. Tina Smith hold a turkey at an event to celebrate the nation-leading turkey industry. Brian Bakst | MPR News

Minnesota’s nation-leading turkey industry has rebounded fully from an avian influenza outbreak that hit the state hard in 2015.

Industry representatives and state leaders reflected on the recovery Monday at an annual event where the governor showcases turkeys ahead of Thanksgiving. The state’s 450 farms raise 46 million turkeys in a typical year. But last year, millions of birds were destroyed to prevent spread of a highly contagious disease.

No new cases have been detected this year. Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson attributes it to bold steps to address the outbreak.

“I think the industry is really tightening down on biosecurity, and I believe the Board of Animal Health is on top of this and the generosity of the Legislature to step forward with anything we needed to stop this in its tracks,” he said.

Steve Olson, executive director of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association, said producers are more-prepared to deal with avian influenza should it return. A state-funded diagnostic lab in Willmar opened in September to help with testing, along with one on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus.

“We’ve learned a lot and we’ve helped share that with other industries across the country as well,” Olson said. “And I think we’re better prepared to deal with it in the future.”

He added, “Everything is back to routine. And that’s a good thing.”

The turkey producers carried on with their Thanksgiving tradition of donating turkey products to state food shelves.

The Minnesota Turkey Research and Promotion Council used the appearance with Gov. Mark Dayton to announce that $9,000 of turkey products would go to Hunger Solutions Minnesota this year.

Colleen Moriarty of the food-shelf organization says demand remains high despite an economic turnaround.

“But even though the economy has improved, we really haven’t seen food shelf visits decrease in the way we thought they would,” she said.

Some 9,000 people visit a Minnesota food shelf on an average day.

The federal government has the largest financial role in hunger relief, so officials are paying close attention to possible changes given the new power structure in Washington.