Iowa farmers put it all on the line every day. As a turkey farmer, my No. 1 focus is on the health of my turkeys.
In 2015, I felt the grief and disappointment my fellow turkey farmers experienced during their recovery from the avian influenza outbreak. This virus wiped out families’ incomes for more than six months. It’s something Iowa’s turkey farmers do not want to experience again.
Today, Iowa’s turkey farmers, in partnership with of the Iowa Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Iowa State University, continually prepare for another outbreak by annually reviewing our response plan and conducting tabletop scenarios with turkey farmers.
We have implemented updated biosecurity practices on all commercial turkey farms. Every turkey flock is blood-tested for avian influenza before marketing to ensure the virus, if present, stays on the farm.
On-farm audits of each turkey farm are conducted annually to ensure biosecurity plans are being followed. From our three years of review, we find one critical piece is lacking: federal funding.
Congress is debating the 2018 farm bill right now, and I urge Congress to include full funding for a three-tiered animal health program in the final bill.
The first tier, the Animal Pest, Disease and Disaster Prevention and Response Program, focuses on early detection and will help us quickly respond to an animal disease crisis. The proposal also funds the National Animal Health Laboratory Network (which includes the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames) and establishes an Animal Vaccine Bank that will assist Iowa’s cattle and hogs.
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Iowa’s turkey industry is one of the largest in the country. The 130 turkey farms in our state raise roughly 12 million turkeys each year. The turkey industry also supports more than 38,000 rural Iowa jobs. Protecting our flocks and farms from disease goes hand in hand with supporting rural Iowa.
Funding this program is about supporting farmers, their families, their communities and keeping animals healthy.
Iowa turkey farmers already are taking numerous prevention measures on the farm. We need Congress to provide the funding to enact and support Iowa’s plans.
Sen. Joni Ernst is a member of the farm bill conference committee and has a big say in how the final bill shakes out. We need her to speak loudly for us.
I ask Ernst, Sen. Chuck Grassley and Iowa’s representatives in the House to stand behind Iowa’s animal agriculture industry and support permanent funding for these important animal health provisions in the farm bill.
Just a little peace of mind would go a long way protecting my family farm.
• Russ Yoder of Wayland is a third-generation turkey farmer and president of the Iowa Turkey Federation.