POULTRY growers in parts of the South are still reeling from the April 28 tornadoes that caused tremendous damage to farms and the loss of more than 1 million birds in four Mississippi counties.
The Mississippi Board of Animal Health reported that 1.045 million birds died from the tornadoes or subsequent power outages. Winston, Wayne, Newton and Scott counties reported 58 poultry houses with major damage and 17 houses with minor damage.
Recognizing the enormous challenges, Winston County Emergency Management director Buddy King requested help from the Mississippi State University Extension Service in organizing a meeting on May 8. The gathering brought poultry growers together with state and federal agencies to discuss concerns and learn about response procedures.
"We are ready to help, but this is going to be a long process," King said. "This is the first time we have had a poultry-specific meeting after a storm in the state of Mississippi. If growers need something specific, we need to know it so the next time something like this happens, we will have a better understanding of what to do."
Tom Tabler, Mississippi State University extension poultry specialist, facilitated the meeting.
"Growers just need to know which agencies need what documentation," he said. "It is easy for farmers to feel like they are getting the runaround, but there is usually some method to the madness."
Tabler said many growers have significant recovery expenses but no options for income except disaster money. Furthermore, some of them may have lost their homes in addition to their poultry houses.
"There will not be any quick fixes for these farm families," he said.
Organizations represented at the meeting included the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Small Business Administration, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Farm Service Agency, Mississippi Board of Animal Health, Mississippi Farm Bureau and Mississippi Poultry Assn.
"We are hoping that the livestock indemnity portion of the new farm bill will move along faster than it did in the old farm bill," said Mike Sullivan of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency. "These recent tornadoes are the first time we are implementing the new legislation. Unfortunately for Mississippi, but fortunately for those impacted, we have a lot of experience handling disasters."
Sullivan encouraged farmers to keep good records of all of their expenses and to take pictures along the way.
Mark Leggett, president of the Mississippi Poultry Assn., said poultry companies have been responsive to growers' immediate needs.
"Companies have been working with their growers to get them back on their feet," Leggett said. "The new farm bill is in place and should help growers in the recovery. Still, it's going to be a long process."
Meeting organizers said a second meeting will be held to answer some of the questions raised and to address additional issues that may surface.