April 8, 2016 by Tammy Pearson
When Avian Influenza decimated egg production at the Rose Acre Farms Winterset and Stuart locations, officials decided to take all their “broken eggs and make one great big omelet,” said Andrew Kaldenberg, manager at Rose Acre Farms in Stuart.
Kaldenberg was the keynote speaker April 5 at the Western Iowa Advantage annual dinner held at the Saints Center for Culture and the Arts in Stuart.
The family-owned Rose Acre Farms, based in Indiana, is the second-largest egg producer in the United States and has facilities in Adair, Guthrie and Madison counties in Iowa.
Kaldenberg, who grew up raising chickens and who has worked for Rose Acres for, as he says, “62 percent” of his life, said, “I thought I had seen it all in the industry, until last year.”
Admittedly, he said he gets emotional when he talks about Avian Influenza and its impact. It is believed that wild birds brought the highly pathogenic H5N1 avian flu strain to Iowa.
May 4 “was a dark day for Rose Acres in Winterset,” said Kaldenberg. It was the day that Avian Influenza was discovered among the farm’s birds. De-population began immediately.
The Stuart facility, where Kaldenberg is manager, “tightened down the doors,” increasing biosecurity measures and “sanitizing anything and everything,” he said.
“May 24, 8:35 I got a call at home. As soon as I saw that phone number, I knew right away,” said Kaldenberg. Dead birds had been discovered. The avian flu had reached the Stuart farm, possibly carried by air currents from the Winterset farm or by wild birds in the area, Kaldenberg speculates.
Crews spent 12- to 14-hour days destroying the million birds on the farm and burying them on-site.
Kaldenberg still wonders if all million birds needed to be destroyed or if the disease could have been contained to one building. With the building next door to the infected one empty at the time, he wonders if the outbreak could have been contained to part of the farm. But the government was clear: All the birds had to go.
From June 11 to Dec. 15, the Stuart facility had no birds.
“So we did the things we could never have done with birds there,” said Kaldenberg.
First, the buildings had to be cleaned, disinfected and treated with heat to kill the virus. Kaldenberg said 115 diesel engines were brought in to run heaters that “nuked the whole place,” bringing the temperature in the buildings to over the 115 degree requirement.
But the company did more than just prepare to resume business as usual. It planned for increased production.
A new $3 million grader facility was added, dramatically increasing the number of eggs that can be put into cases each hour. Consequently, when the Stuart facility was re-populated, 1.3 million birds were brought in, an increase of 300,000.
Now, 3,100 cases of eggs are produced each day.
Today, biosecurity measures are more stringent than ever at the egg production facilities. Movement of people and equipment is more restricted between farms. Employees can no longer drive to the buildings. They are bussed from parking areas. Greater care is taken to disinfect equipment, and employees wear protective clothing.
“No matter where I go, have disinfectant and booties in my car,” said Kaldenberg.
In the end, lost revenue for Rose Acre Farms was $29.9 million at the Stuart facility alone. The lost net income was over $10 million, said Kaldenberg.
Notably, Rose Acre “absorbed that cost and kept all the employees” — even through the months when the farms had no birds, he said.
Local utilities also felt the impact of the lack of egg production. The city lost $82,000 in revenue as the farm’s water usage plunged, and the electric utility lost $250,000.
Kaldenberg said Rose Acre Farms has yet to see any funds from the government.
Disaster can strike any industry, said Kaldenberg. “When you think you’re ready, you’re not.”
WIAD Annual Report
An improved marketing strategy was among the 2015-16 accomplishments noted by Evan Blakely, president of Western Iowa Advantage, at the group’s annual dinner April 5 at Saints Center for Culture and the Arts in Stuart.
Western Iowa Advantage is an economic development group covering Adair, Audubon, Carroll, Crawford, Greene, Guthrie, Ida and Sac counties.
New marketing materials have been created to target specific industries, and a new website will soon be launched to promote western Iowa for economic development efforts.
Blakely said Western Iowa Advantage is targeting specific industries: advanced manufacturing, ag-tech advanced manufacturing, agriculture and bio services, data information technology and value added food processing.
The WIAD annual report noted projects related to new business in the region: Ida County Wind Project, $490 million, 10 full time jobs and 200 temporary; Nutriom in Panora, 15 jobs; Wild Rose Casino in Jefferson, 275 jobs; Cobblestone Casino Hotel in Jefferson, 80 jobs; Greene County Medical Center in Jefferson, $23 million, 40 jobs; North Ida Builders hotel project in Holstein, $3 million, 12 jobs; North Ida Investment travel center in Holstein, $5 million, 50 jobs; and truck stop and motel in Audubon.
Expansion projects included Quality Food Processors in Denison, $21 million, 195 jobs; Scranton Manufacturing in Scranton, $3 million, 75 jobs; Vaughn Bauer Manufacturing in Paton, 40 jobs; Cargill in Grand Junction, 30 jobs; Essentia in Lytton, $6 milllion; West Central/Landus Cooperative in Ralston, $14 million, 25 jobs; West Central/Landus Cooperative in Jefferson, 25 jobs; Highway 20/59 Business Park in Holstein, $2 million infrastructure investment; VT Industries, 22,500 square foot expansion; AMVC in Audubon; John Deere Co. in Payton.
Courtesy of Tammy Pearson, Guthrie Center Times 4/08/16.