Individuals Honored for Extraordinary Efforts Before, During, and After the Avian Influenza Crisis of 2015


CONTACT: Lara Durben (Email | 763-682-2171)

Presidents Award - Veterinarians

L to R: Dr. Jill Nezworski, Dr. Ben Wileman, MTRPC President Robert Orsten, and Dr. Michelle Kromm

(Buffalo, MN )  … The Presidents of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association (MTGA) and Minnesota Turkey Research and Promotion Council (MTRPC) have chosen to honor five worthy individuals for their extraordinary efforts before, during, and after the highly pathogenic avian influenza crisis of 2015.

MTRPC President Robert Orsten of Wilmar, Minn., presented his 2016 President’s Award to three veterinarians who were instrumental in helping Minnesota’s turkey industry respond to each and every challenge the HPAI outbreak threw at them:  Dr. Michelle Kromm, Jennie-O Turkey Store; Dr. Jill Nezworski, Blue House Veterinary; and Dr. Ben Wileman, Willmar Poultry Company.

“These individuals lived the HPAI outbreak on a broader and deeper scale than probably anyone else,” said Orsten. “These three were charged with preventing infections, and if a farm became infected they were crucial in the response. They were experts in bird health going in to the outbreak, and now they are experts in emergency response to a catastrophic disease event. They led the creation of industry-driven prevention and control plans, and their input helped improve response for Minnesota’s poultry farmers and to future HPAI introductions.”

MTGA President Gene Brownfield of Redwood Falls, Minn., chose Dr. David Halvorson, a Professor Emeritus at the University of Minnesota, as his President’s Award recipient. Dr. Halvorson has been a leader in initiating and implementing what’s called the “Secure Poultry Supply Plan.”

Presidents Award - Steve Olson

MTRPC President Robert Orsten, MTGA President Gene Brownfield, and MTGA/MTRPC Executive Director Steve Olson

Said Brownfield: “This plan establishes science-based testing protocols to enable poultry and poultry products from non-infected farms within a disease control zone to move to market or the next production phase. Basically, this means these businesses are able to continue their operations with minimal disruption.”

Without such protocols in place, healthy birds and safe products would need to be destroyed at a cost of millions of dollars to taxpayers and to those farms/processors. “Dr. Halvorson led the charge in this important endeavor and is well-deserved of this award,” said Brownfield.

Both President Orsten and Brownfield teamed up, as well, to give a joint President’s Award to MTGA and MTRPC Executive Director Steve Olson. Olson led the HPAI response efforts from the organizational standpoint, assisting in bringing together the government agencies involved and Minnesota’s turkey industry. He also was the “face of the industry” as he willingly participated in hundreds of media interviews with reporters from around the world.

“Our organizations are extremely grateful for Olson’s leadership during this extremely challenging time,” said Orsten.

Brownfield concurred: “His efforts helped shape the overall response and his knowledge of crisis communications was instrumental in making sure the correct messages about this outbreak were conveyed to the public.”

The MTGA and MTRPC President’s Awards are given annually to individual(s) chosen specifically for their dedication and commitment to the goals of the organization.

The official award presentation took place at the MTGA’s annual meeting in Saint Paul, Minn. on March 16.

For more information on the MTGA or its President’s Award program, please contact the MTGA at (763) 682-2171 or visit


About MTGA

The MTGA, founded in 1939 and located in Buffalo, MN, is a nonprofit association dedicated to fostering a successful Minnesota turkey industry and its ability to make positive contributions to consumers, the economy, the environment and its members. Minnesota is currently ranked #1 for turkey production in the U.S. with its 450 turkey farmers raising approximately 46 million turkeys annually . Minnesota has the most independent turkey farmers of any state in the U.S.


MTRPC is the oldest check-off based commodity organization in Minnesota, celebrating 50 years in 2015. Since 1965, the MTRPC has worked diligently to encourage consumers to eat more turkey  year-round, sponsor innovative turkey research and educate a variety of audiences about the benefits of turkey. Programming at the MTRPC is funded by a voluntary grower checkoff program.

For further details on both organizations, visit ,, find us on Facebook ( and follow us on Twitter (@MinnesotaTurkey)