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Illinois ag groups want funding for more state veterinarians
Illinois Correspondent

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — As Illinois agriculture groups flocked together to ask state lawmakers for additional funding to hire more field veterinarians, the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) announced new restrictions on poultry in order to restrict the spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) within the state. 
The restrictions prohibit the sale or showing of poultry and poultry products at swap meets, exhibitions, flea markets, and auction markets in Illinois. The emergency rules, effective immediately, may stay in place for up to 150 days. After 45 days, the Department will reevaluate the threat and may choose to repeal the emergency rules. The Department will continue to evaluate the HPAI threat in 45-day increments for up to 150 days.
“We are optimistic that as the migratory bird season comes to an end, we will see a decrease in exposure for our flocks here in Illinois and our neighboring states, and be able to resume our poultry exhibitions and sales. Until that time, it is essential that we take every step possible to protect poultry flocks in Illinois,” Illinois State Veterinarian Mark Ernst said, in an Illinois e-News release.
Meanwhile, an Illinois state budget request of $750,000 for the Department of Agriculture (IDOA) to hire additional field veterinarians has reportedly been granted through Governor JB Pritzker’s $46 billion FY 2023 budget, which was recently approved by the Illinois General Assembly. The request, which was granted just as the current wave of HPAI is threatening the nation’s poultry producers and driving up prices for eggs, was championed by leadership from Illinois’ pork, beef, corn and soybean commodity groups, along with the Illinois Farm Bureau, which identified the extra funding as one of its top state 2022 fiscal issues in January.
“We need to get some additional field veterinarians on staff at the Department of Agriculture in the event of a catastrophic animal disease outbreak like foot and mouth disease or African Swine Fever,” said Mark Gebhards, IFB director of state legislative issues, in February.
After having their budget slashed by $20 million in 2017 by the previous gubernatorial administration, the IDOA has just one field veterinarian on staff to serve the entire state of Illinois, according to the ag groups. They recommend the state implement regionally-defined service areas for veterinarians, along with the hiring of species-specific veterinary specialists. 
Jennifer Tirey, Illinois Pork Producers Association executive director, said the recent announcement by the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service confirming the presence of HPAI in a small backyard flock in McLean County makes the need for the additional funding more immediate.
“This recent outbreak proves that a foreign animal disease does not discriminate based on the size of a livestock farm. The devastation could impact the smallest backyard hobby farms, farmers that sell their product at a farmers’ market, small meat processors or our larger producers. We’re also concerned about the potential of an African Swine Fever outbreak in Illinois swine herds. The impact of any of these animal disease outbreaks to Illinois agriculture would be detrimental and being underprepared would only worsen the impact,” Tirey said. 
According to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange’s Daily Livestock Report, a significant drop in production along with strong demand recently pushed wholesale table egg prices to more than $3 per dozen, more than 170 percent higher than a year ago. Nationwide, at least 11 million layers have been lost to the current wave of HPAI. Analysts predict total losses could reach 18 million birds, or 5.5 percent of the national layer stock.
Ernst said that flock owners, managers or veterinarians should report any unusual findings in domestic poultry such as an increase in mortality, decrease in water consumption, decrease in egg production, or respiratory signs including coughing and sneezing immediately to the IDOA at 217-782-4944, or the USDA at 866-536-7593.