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Women in Ag: It's Fair Time!

Minnesota is in the midst of its fair season, as is the case for many states around the nation. County fairs are happening every week, and we're just a month or so away from our State Fair.

Fair time is always busy for those of us in agriculture. 4-H kids (and parents) are getting their animals and other projects ready to show; gardeners and bakers are entering their best works for judging; tractors are being shined up for display; and food vendors are ready to feed fairgoers all the good stuff we all love to eat. 
And that's really just a partial list of what's happening.
This year in Minnesota and in many other states, live poultry shows and displays have been banned because of the threat of avian influenza. The reasoning behind these bans is to minimize the risk of avian influenza from entering a state - or in Minnesota's case, where I live and work, to start spreading again. (Thankfully, Minnesota has been avian influenza-free since June 5.)
This was not an easy decision to make. It is disappointing for fair participants - those kids who work tirelessly for months on end to raise their poultry - but I can tell you that egg, chicken, and turkey farmers fully support this decision, which came about strictly out of an abundance of precaution for disease prevention. 
The number one priority right now for poultry farmers is to keep their flocks healthy and safe from avian influenza: This same commitment carries over to kids who are raising their small flocks for show and to backyard flock owners as well. We're all in this together as avian influenza doesn't pick and choose which poultry to hit. All poultry is at risk.
My office - the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association - has been working closely with the International Association of Fairs and Expositions (IAFE) to make sure county and state fairs across the country have the messaging, information, and displays they need to explain to their fairgoers what avian influenza is and also reinforce that our food supply is completely safe. Thanks to the Ohio Poultry Association, which developed a set of pop-up banners covering several avian influenza topics, we were able to repurpose these for general use throughout the U.S.; many fairs have ordered these banners for their own events. (You can see one banner at the top of this blog post.)
In Minnesota, we have also been working in tandem with the Minnesota State Fair, FFA, 4-H, and others to ensure our Poultry Barn has a plethora of information about turkey farming, avian influenza, and more so that fairgoers will have a positive learning experience and kids will still have an opportunity to hone their poultry knowledge and leadership skills.
We are developing a "Day in the Life of a Turkey Farmer" video right now, which will walk folks through a typical day caring for turkeys. We'll show this video all day long in the Poultry Barn at the Minnesota State Fair, while also giving fairgoers a chance to browse interactive displays and presentations on topics such as biosecurity and nutrition to bird health and poultry careers. Veterinarians and poultry farmers will be on hand to give short presentations, and fairgoers will be able to sign and send well wishes and thank you messages to poultry farmers in Minnesota.
While we would prefer to not have to worry about avian influenza at all, the truth is it's here, and it's imperative we find ways to educate consumers as well as offer alternative options for kids who typically raise birds for show. Our county and state fairs give us the ultimate opportunity to do this.
In Minnesota's poultry industry, 2015 will certainly go down as a year our farmers will never forget. The good news: Our farmers impacted by this virus are now well on their way to restocking their barns, and we're ready to showcase all we do know for this year's fairgoers.
Bring on the fair!
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