Early this spring, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture and the state of Tennessee experienced a situation we had never faced before.
On March 4, staff at the Kord Animal Health Diagnostic lab in Nashville confirmed highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in samples taken from sick chickens at a broiler-breeder facility in Lincoln County. Tennessee has dealt with low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) in the past, but never HPAI. And while this is something we hoped we would never experience, we had a plan in place that we have practiced and fine-tuned for years. Our staff along with local, state, federal and industry partners acted immediately to stop the spread of this virus as quickly as possible.
After the first detection of HPAI, we also detected LPAI at a commercial poultry breeding operation in Giles County and a second case of HPAI at another commercial chicken breeder flock within the existing control zone in Lincoln County.
Stopping the spread of this virus was truly a team effort and we are proud of the skills, knowledge and spirit of those who stepped up to help.
Although this experience has been a challenge, going forward we see this as an opportunity to improve our response plan, strengthen biosecurity procedures and educate the public in order to protect Tennessee’s vital poultry industry.
Two Cases of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Detected in Lincoln County
State Veterinarian, Charles Hatcher, confirmed on March 4 that for the first time in Tennessee history, H7N9 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) had sickened a commercial chicken breeder flock in Lincoln County.
On March 14, H7N9 HPAI was confirmed in a second commercial chicken breeder flock less than two miles from the first affected premises. Because this was within the control zone, frequent testing allowed for a swift detection and immediate response.
“Wild migratory birds can carry this strain of avian influenza,” Hatcher said. “Given the close proximity of the two premises, this was not unexpected.” Due to the contagious nature of avian influenza and its threat to domesticated poultry, the affected flocks were depopulated and the premises were disinfected to contain the virus.
During this outbreak, H7N9 Low Pathogenic Avian Influenza (LPAI) was also detected in a commercial poultry flock in Giles County. This flock was depopulated out of an abundance of caution.
The primary difference between LPAI and HPAI is mortality rate in domesticated poultry. A slight change to the viral structure can make an influenza virus deadly for birds. Avian influenza virus strains often occur naturally in wild migratory birds without causing illness in those birds. With LPAI, domesticated chickens and turkeys may show little or no signs of illness. However, HPAI is often fatal for domesticated poultry.
No other flocks showed signs of illness and the surveillance zones were lifted by April 12.
The state veterinarian recommends the following:
- Closely observe your poultry flock.
- Report a sudden increase in the number of sick birds or bird deaths to the state veterinarian’s office at 615-837-5120 and/or USDA at 1-866-536-7593.
- Prevent contact with wild birds.
- Practice good biosecurity with your poultry
- Follow Tennessee’s avian influenza updates and access resources for producers and consumers.
The state veterinarian and staff are focused on animal health and disease prevention. Each year, the Kord Animal Health Diagnostic Library tests approximately 22,000 samples from poultry for avian influenza. From March 3 until April 11, the official testing period associated with the outbreak, the lab tested 3,145 samples.
Asst. Commissioner Jimmy Hopper Retires
After 32 years with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, Jimmy Hopper retired from his position as Assistant Commissioner of Consumer and Industry Services. “During his time with TDA, Jimmy provided strong leadership, increased efficiencies and maintained accountability in one of the most important and demanding regulatory programs in state government,” Commissioner Jai Templeton said. “Above all, Jimmy is known for his honesty, professionalism and integrity and earned the respect of his many colleagues and countless friends.”
Jimmy began his career at TDA as the director of the Dairy and Food Division. When it was renamed Quality and Standards and its responsibilities expanded in 1987, Jimmy was named director of the new division. In the mid-1990s, the department was reorganized, and Jimmy was asked to lead all regulatory services divisions. Three years ago, Jimmy was named Assistant Commissioner when the division was renamed Consumer and Industry Services.
Jimmy and his wife, Kay, have moved back to their hometown of Denmark, Tenn. to enjoy retirement and be closer to family.
Jimmy’s position has been filled by Keith Harrison, a Wilson County native with more than 30 years of experience promoting and leading in agriculture. Keith who has been with Tennessee Farmers Cooperative since 2001 will assume his duties as Assistant Commissioner of Consumer and Industry Service on May 30.
Tennessee Firefighters Help Fight OK Blazes
Since the start of 2017, more than 900 wildfires have burned almost 940,000 acres in Oklahoma, as well as parts of Kansas and Texas. Seventeen firefighters from TDA’s Division of Forestry were assigned to western Oklahoma from March 12 – 28 working with the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry – Forestry Services to help battle the blazes.
“Our firefighters worked on the Northwest Oklahoma Complex which burned nearly 780,000 acres,” TDA Fire Operations Unit Leader Robin Bible said. “These firefighters were requested through the South Central Fire Compact, which provides mutual aid wildland fire assistance among participating states.”
“Partnerships like this between states are vital during an extended emergency situation,” Assistant Commissioner for the Division of Forestry, Jere Jeter said. “We relied on the assistance of out-of-state firefighters during the 2016 wildfire season to supplement our staff and resources.”
Firefighting assignments outside of Tennessee typically last two weeks. No other Tennessee firefighters were called in to assist.
Weather Challenges Tennessee’s Fruit Crop
An unseasonably warm winter launched Tennessee’s fruit crops into early growth and bloom. Many farmers were excited about the possibility of starting the season ahead of schedule until the forecast changed and we were hit with a hard freeze during the second week of March.
Despite taking measures to protect their blooms, many producers around the state reported some damage and crop loss.
“We were able to get all of our strawberries covered with row covers to minimize the cold damage but did get some bloom damage,” Bart Gilmer, owner of Falcon Ridge Farm in West Tennessee said. “We lost the first picking of strawberries, which probably amounts to an overall loss of 10%-15% of this year’s crop.”
Stone fruits, including plums, cherries and peaches were also blooming in a number of Tennessee orchards, and sustained significant losses. In Middle Tennessee, the Pratt family of Pratts Orchard in Lebanon indicated that they lost the early blooms on their peach trees, but new blooms soon followed.
“The peach crop throughout Tennessee had some damage to the earliest blooming varieties thanks to below normal temperatures in April,” TDA Marketing Specialist Tammy Algood said. “However, we are still on track for those fruits that hit the market in June and beyond.”
“Producers are hoping for the best,” Assistant Commissioner of Market Development Ed Harlan said. “This year it’s more important than ever to support our Tennessee fruit crop farmers and to buy local.”
TDA Discovery Prompts Nationwide Cheese Recall
The Tennessee Department of Agricuture Consumer and Industry Services division routinely tests food products to ensure they are safe to eat. Testing in the CIS lab during the winter determined that a sample of cheese was tainted with the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes, leading to a nationwide recall involving several different brands.
On January 30, a TDA inspector collected a sample of Amish Classic Colby deli horn cheese from a store in Trenton, Tenn. Tests conducted in the lab confirmed the contamination. The Food and Drug Administration then began the investigation into what brands of cheese were involved and what retailers received the batches of tainted cheese. Ultimately, a variety of Sargento, Meijer and Amish Classics cheese products were recalled.
Listeria monocytogenes is unlike many other germs because it can grow in a cold environment. Although healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, the infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women and may be fatal for individuals with weakened immune systems. Cooking and pasteurization are two methods to eliminate the bacteria from food.
No illnesses were reported in Tennessee.
FDA’s website offers more information about current food recalls.
Ag Day on the Hill 2017
Rural Tennessee came to downtown Nashville on March 14 with Ag Day on the Hill. Representatives from the agricultural and forestry industries joined Governor Bill Haslam and lawmakers at Legislative Plaza to recognize the importance of agriculture in Tennessee.
Legislators raced to see who could bottle feed a calf and bag potatoes the fastest. The winners were Senators Jim Tracy, Frank Niceley and Paul Bailey. The Farm and Forest Families of Tennessee organization presented a $1,000 donation to Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee in honor of those competing.
Live animals and farm equipment were set up outside while booths from agricultural commodity groups lined the halls inside.
Agriculture is one of the top industries in Tennessee, contributing more than $70 billion a year to the state’s economy and employing more than 340,000 citizens. The state has more than 66,000 farms representing 10.8 million acres.
You can see more pictures from the event on TDA’s Facebook page.