The Agriculture Department will compensate dairy farmers for 90% of the value of milk production lost due to the H5N1 virus through use of its Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees, and Farm-raised Fish Program, or ELAP.

The department had announced previously it would use ELAP to aid milk producers but rolled out the official announcement with details Thursday. In a news release, the department said payments would be “based on an expected 21-day period of no milk production when a cow is removed from the milking herd, followed by seven days when the cow has returned to milking but produces 50% of the normal amount of production.”

“What we've learned is this four-week period is roughly equivalent to the amount of time that most producers have experienced significant milk loss,” Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters.

Vilsack said at this point, USDA was not providing compensation for culled cows but added, “We’re comfortable with the level of assistance that we're providing.”

“We're providing additional resources for farmers to do enhanced biosecurity planning, we're providing assistance to offset veterinarian services for dealing with sick cows and we’re providing additional money for testing.”

Reimbursement is available, as well, for sending samples for testing and for personal protective equipment being used by farmers and dairy farm workers. “I think we are really stepping up in a way that is most effective and most responsive to the impacts of this disease,” he said.

The H5N1 virus has been found in 132 herds in 12 states, 65 of which have been confirmed in the last 30 days.

Vilsack said the loss of milk production has so far not affected the market, noting that the infected herds represent a small fraction of the approximately 24,000 herds in the U.S.

                   It's easy to be "in the know" about agriculture news from coast to coast! Sign up for a FREE month of Agri-Pulse news. Simply click here.

He added that six states have now joined a voluntary herd status pilot program “designed to give dairy producers more options is to monitor the health of their herds and to move cows more quickly, while providing ongoing testing and expanding our knowledge and understanding of this disease.” Those states are North Carolina, Ohio, New Mexico, Nebraska, Kansas and Texas.

The pilot program “is going to provide us additional opportunities to test herds that are not known to be infected with the virus, which will improve our surveillance and continue to expand our knowledge of this disease,” Vilsack said.

Vilsack said work continues on a vaccine, both for cows and poultry. USDA received “roughly 20 responses” to a recent Request for Information about whether there are companies interested in producing a vaccine for dairy cows, which is “an indication that there's commercial interest in this.”