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H5N1 overshadows Dairy Month visit

Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan’s visit overshadowed by H5N1 influenza in dairy announcement.

Kevin Schulz, Editor

June 18, 2024

6 Min Read
Group of people gathered at dairy farm
BOOTS ON THE GROUND: Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan (second from right) visited Gar-Lin Dairy near Eyota, Minn., where she discussed agriculture issues with Dana Allen-Tully (second from left), Gar-Lin Dairy owner; Thom Petersen (left), Minnesota ag commissioner; Duane Epland, Twin Lakes farmer and vice chairman of the Minnesota Corn Research and Promotion Council; and Shelly DePestel (right), Lewiston dairy farmer and vice president of the Minnesota Milk Producers Association. Kevin Schulz

The celebration of Dairy Month was overshadowed by the announcement that Minnesota’s first dairy herd was infected with H5N1, the virus that causes highly pathogenic avian influenza in poultry.

Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan visited Gar-Lin Dairy near Eyota June 6 intending to honor the hardworking men and women on the state’s dairy farms, which she did, but she also took the opportunity to remind all that despite of the HPAI detection, “I was to just reinforce that message from Commissioner Petersen that milk is safe to drink and to consume,” she said, referring to Minnesota’s Department of Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen, who also attended the event. “We are absolutely managing this, and I’m confident that we will be able to continue to navigate through this with our farmers.”

The Minnesota Board of Animal Health issued a statement June 6 announcing that H5N1had been confirmed in a Benton County dairy herd. The previous weekend, the Benton County producer noticed clinical signs in only a handful of cows, but the following day, more than 40 cows had signs of fever. Samples collected from sick cows in the herd on June 3 were sent to the University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, where the virus was detected. The USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories confirmed the results the evening of June 5.

Though spread of disease is never a good thing, Petersen says the state is “very well prepared to handle that, as we have had highly path[ogenic] avian influenza a couple of times in 2015, and then for the last three years in Minnesota.”

Both the MDA and the Minnesota Board of Animal Health have information and guidelines to follow, even if H5N1 has not been detected (see sidebar).

Salute to dairy farmers

Getting back to promoting Dairy Month, Flanagan says, “We know that we have incredible dairy farmers all across the state, and also that dairy is delicious, and it is one of my favorite things to consume, and it’s really the heart of the farmers and agriculture that we have here in Minnesota.”

Gar-Lin Dairy, located along Interstate 90 as it cuts through Olmsted County, is home to 1,750 milking Holstein cows and is owned by Gary and Linda Allen and their children, Dean Allen and Dana Allen-Tully. In addition to the milk cows, the operation also consists of more than 4,100 acres of corn, soybeans, winter rye, alfalfa, sweet peas and sweet corn.

Allen-Tully hosted Flanagan and Petersen to talk dairy, but she also worked to support the other hat she wears — president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association.

Flanagan recognizes that connection, and talked of an upcoming trip she is taking to Canada “our leading trade partner for Minnesota’s agricultural products, with exports totaling $1.24 billion in 2023,” with corn as the top ag product exported to Canada.

Allen-Tully took advantage of the private audience of both Flanagan and Petersen at her family’s farm, thanking them both for the role they played in the legislative session, “particularly on the nitrate issue in southeast Minnesota. Commissioner Petersen and I know the governor’s office was involved in how the funding came out for the departments, as well as a proactive approach to putting together a nitrate advisory committee.”

She also applauded the work progressing for beginning farmers and emerging farmers, “to make sure that we have another generation on the farm.”

Involving the next generation at Gar-Lin Dairy is stepping out of bloodlines, as neither Allen-Tully nor her brother have family working into the operation. The Gar-Lin leadership has been working with a couple of young men, molding them to maintain the future of the dairy.

“It’s been a long — a long process. And I think that’s appropriate, to be deliberate and to be open and lay out a plan that works for both parties,” she says. “We did this with enough time to be able to work together with them. They can learn from us, we can learn from them and then move forward. As they transition into more responsibility and different responsibility, then we can step back, knowing we’re in good hands. … The goal is all the blood, sweat and tears that we put into it, or my parents have put into it or my grandparents put into it — I want to see it continue. That really was the motivation to look for the two gentlemen that are coming in; is I want them to be able to continue what we started.”

Dual hats

Cohesion is how Allen-Tully sees her dual role as dairy farmer and president of the MCGA, in that the dairy industry and corn growers are cross-reliant.

“The interesting part about both hats is that most dairies grow a lot of corn, and the Minnesota Corn Growers Association offers dairy a lot in terms of the research and advocacy work that they do,” she says. “I don’t think that it needs to be an either/or; I think it should be a ‘both.’ … We cannot be in our silos; we’re all in it together.”

Biosecurity against influenza

Following the report of the H5N1-infected dairy herd in Benton County, the Minnesota Board of Animal Health was quick to act.

“We knew it was only a matter of time before this detection would reach our doorstep,” says Brian Hoefs, state veterinarian, in a BAH press release. “It’s important for dairy farmers to follow the example of this herd and test sick cows. The more the animal health community can learn about this virus today through testing and research, the better we can equip ourselves to prevent infections tomorrow.”

According to the BAH release, dairy farmers should monitor their herds and contact their veterinarian immediately if cows appear sick. H5N1 symptoms in dairy mostly affect late-stage lactating cows and include fever, a drop in milk production, loss of appetite and changes in manure consistency.

As the highly pathogenic avian influenza situation continues to evolve, USDA, as well as the Minnesota Board of Animal Health and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture continue to monitor disease breaks and will update information and guidelines as applicable.

Stringent biosecurity measures vital

Producers should follow their site-specific biosecurity plan. Some important points include:

  • Separate all incoming animals for 21-30 days and screen for signs of disease before allowing them into your herd.

  • Milk imported animals last.

  • There should be a line of separation and specific access points where staff or visitors cross the line.

  • A clean/dirty line at barn or parlor entries where staff or visitors can change into barn-specific footwear or clothing, and clean and disinfect. (This point is especially important if staff travel among different locations.)

  • Report clinical signs or suspected illnesses to your veterinarian immediately.

  • Know where you source your feed, and keep rodents and wildlife away from stored feed. Keep feed covered or contained, and clean any feed spills immediately.

  • Provide clean water, and keep wildlife away from troughs.

About the Author(s)

Kevin Schulz

Editor, The Farmer

Kevin Schulz joined The Farmer as editor in January of 2023, after spending two years as senior staff writer for Dakota Farmer and Nebraska Farmer magazines. Prior to joining these two magazines, he spent six years in a similar capacity with National Hog Farmer. Prior to joining National Hog Farmer, Schulz spent a long career as the editor of The Land magazine, an agricultural-rural life publication based in Mankato, Minn.

During his tenure at The Land, the publication grew from covering 55 Minnesota counties to encompassing the entire state, as well as 30 counties in northern Iowa. Covering all facets of Minnesota and Iowa agriculture, Schulz was able to stay close to his roots as a southern Minnesota farm boy raised on a corn, soybean and hog finishing farm.

One particular area where he stayed close to his roots is working with the FFA organization.

Covering the FFA programs stayed near and dear to his heart, and he has been recognized for such coverage over the years. He has received the Minnesota FFA Communicator of the Year award, was honored with the Minnesota Honorary FFA Degree in 2014 and inducted into the Minnesota FFA Hall of Fame in 2018.

Schulz attended South Dakota State University, majoring in agricultural journalism. He was also a member of Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity and now belongs to its alumni organization.

His family continues to live on a southern Minnesota farm near where he grew up. He and his wife, Carol, have raised two daughters: Kristi, a 2014 University of Minnesota graduate who is married to Eric Van Otterloo and teaches at Mankato (Minn.) East High School, and Haley, a 2018 graduate of University of Wisconsin-River Falls. She is married to John Peake and teaches in Hayward, Wis. 

When not covering the agriculture industry on behalf of The Farmer's readers, Schulz enjoys spending time traveling with family, making it a quest to reach all 50 states — 47 so far — and three countries. He also enjoys reading, music, photography, playing basketball, and enjoying nature and campfires with friends and family.

[email protected]

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