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As financial stress mounts, impact of bird flu spreads beyond farms

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The financial fallout from the fast-moving avian influenza striking Minnesota poultry farms is spreading as fast as the virus itself.

The Mankato Free Press reported trouble from the disease is "radiating out to businesses that serve the industry," including trucking firms. J&R Schugel in New Ulm, one of the biggest trucking firms in the state, said business related to the poultry industry began falling at the first of the month.

Schugel has 600 trucks and delivers liquid and whole eggs and frozen and fresh poultry. The company's vice president Clay Merches estimated the poultry-related business was down about 80 percent. He said the company's drivers are sitting idle longer; he couldn't predict how long the slowdown might last.

"The providers are saying they're doing everything they can to improve the situation," he told the newspaper. "We have a lot of great relationships with these customers and they've really been impacted."

According to the Minnesota Board of Animal Health, 84 farms in 21 Minnesota counties had been hit by the flu as of May 8.

Last week, a shortage of eggs was noted at Cub Foods, although the grocery chain said it would turn to different suppliers to replenish inventory and prevent further gaps in availability. Jennie-O has laid off hundreds at its Faribault plant; since the H5N2 virus reduced the number of turkeys available, the company is moving to a single shift.

Meanwhile, the St. Cloud Times reported emergency mental health services are being provided to farmers facing "stress and emotional turmoil" due to the outbreak.

The state has activated a team of behavioral health specialists to offer mental health assistance to farmers in Stearns, Meeker and Kandiyohi Counties, the three counties hit hardest by the avian flu, the newspaper noted.

The Behavioral Health Medical Reserve Corps has volunteers all over the state that can deploy where needed. Team members include licensed mental health professionals, social workers, school counselors, chaplains and others who know the local resources and people.

The staff is helping train those who might have contact with others impacted by the emergency, including feedlot officers, health care providers or first responders, the St. Cloud Times said.

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