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Agricultural News

Tom Vilsack Testifies to House Ag Committee that USDA Gearing Up for Bird Flu Battle This Fall

Thu, 23 Jul 2015 05:44:56 CDT

Tom Vilsack Testifies to House Ag Committee that USDA Gearing Up for Bird Flu Battle This Fall The House Ag Committee focused on the operations of the US Department of Agriculture on Wednesday morning- and hosted the US Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, as their star witness for the Hearing. Both the Chairman, Texas lawmaker Mike Conaway and Ranking Member Collin Peterson of Minnesota talked about the computer problems that the Secretary says progress has been made on- even as he acknowledged that there is more work to do to get all of the USDA computers interacting with each other- which could help provide farmers better service in the future.

Vilsack admitted there have been problems that have come from differences in opinion between the USDA offices in Kansas City and the USDA offices in Washington.

Vilsack says that USDA computers now allow farmers to see records from multiple counties in a single county FSA office. The next step is to allow farmers to use the system online so they don't have to go to an FSA office, he said. To that end, FSA is consulting with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which already has an online system.

Also addressed was the response of USDA to HPAI- Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza. Vilsack reported to the Committee that the government is gearing up to deal with as many as 500 incidents of avian flu this fall, far more than the number that devastated Midwest producers this spring.

Vilsack added that his department is working to increase the number of incident response teams to deal more quickly with outbreaks on farms.

"What we have learned is that we do need a command and communications structure that is organized and in place as quickly as possible," Vilsack said. "We're looking at ways in which we can identify assets and increase the number of incident command teams as soon as this thing hits."

USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has reported 223 detections of avian flu since December 19, including 105 in Minnesota and 75 in Iowa. There have been no new detections reported since June 17, but the outbreak devastated turkey and egg production in the two states, and there are fears it could reach broiler operations in the South.

Along those lines- the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture has held a response exercise this week in eastern Oklahoma- practicing what the agency would do if a case of Bird Flu should be discovered in the state this fall as migratory birds fly south and possibly bring the disease with them. A look at that exercise is available here.

Radio Oklahoma Ag Network Farm Director Ron Hays has an overview of the hearing from Wednesday as it relates to the Bird Flu situation, as well as a question raised by former Chairman of the House Ag Committee, Oklahoma Congressman Frank Lucas, regarding cover crops and their eligibility for ARC or PLC. Hays also shares in this report comments from the Secretary on MIDAS and the progress that has been made in the world of computers within USDA. Click on the LISTEN BAR below to hear the Secretary's remarks on these subjects.


Ron Hays offers an overview of Tom Vilsack's testimony to the House Ag Committee July 22.
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