SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Bird flu will change the jobs of some employees at Dakota Provisions in Huron, but no full-time employees will lose their jobs, said Jordan Woodbury, the company’s chief executive officer.
“We will be severely impacted by avian flu over the next four months,” Woodbury said.
As of April 8, about 1.4 million of the South Dakota turkeys that would be processed by Dakota Provisions were lost to avian flu.
That’s about 35% of what the Huron company would process, Woodbury said.
It will take until August, even September before Dakota Provisions is back on regular production. Until then, some of the employees who would have been processing turkeys will shift to further processing pork, beef and other turkey parts such as breasts at the facility.
“Fortunately, we’ve got other areas of the company where we can reallocate those employees,” Woodbury said. “We are not letting go of any full-time employees.”
Further processing is when the company does not start with the full carcass but receives pieces from other processors.
For example, Dakota provisions may further process a turkey breast into luncheon meat, Woodbury said.
Dakota Provisions and the state’s turkey industry has experienced the avian flu before.
But, “we’ve been impacted hard this year,” Woodbury said.
“Avian influenza cases have had a significant impact on the South Dakota turkey industry with over half of the flock in the state lost at this point,” said Beth Breeding of the National Turkey Federation.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said as of April 8, at least 1.4 million turkeys have been euthanized because of avian flu.
The state produces about four million to five million turkeys on average per year.
Comparatively, Minnesota produces about 40 to 45 million birds and is consistently ranked as the top turkey-producer in the U.S. As of April 8, the state has lost about 1 million birds.
At least 11 million laying chickens have been euthanized in Iowa because of bird flu.
The birds are euthanized to control the spread of the flu. Experts say avian flu can spread rapidly through a flock.
Producers installed additional biosecurity after the 2015 outbreak that includes site workers showering on site before entering barns and having clothes washed on site.
Migrating waterfowl have been spreading avian flu across the U.S.
“It’s tough to control waterfowl flying over the state,” Woodbury said. “When it’s out of your control, it really gets challenging.”
Although avian flu continues to impact waterfowl and poultry in the U.S., the USDA and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have said the flu is not a threat to the public.
“We always like to make sure the public understands that this is not a public health threat and poultry products are safe to consume,” Breeding said.
Dakota Provisions products are shipped to various markets around the U.S.
Woodbury said company customers may need to find another supplier in the short-term but he’s confident they will return when Dakota Provisions is running at full production.
He’s also optimistic that the producers who supply turkeys to Dakota Provisions will recover.
“I’m fully confident our growers will repopulate (flocks). They are already doing that now,” Woodbury said.
“While it is a difficult time for the turkey industry, South Dakota’s turkey producers are resilient, and they are determined to come back – just like they did after the 2015 outbreak,” Breeding said.
Since then, Minnesota has consistently ranked No. 1 in U.S. turkey production. Every year, Minnesota turkey farmers raise between 40 million and 42 million birds.