LITCHFIELD — Millions of federal dollars have already been spent to respond to a deadly avian influenza that has wiped out millions of turkeys in Minnesota ,and there’s a commitment to spend even more money as the virus continues to devastate area farms.

“My major push is to keep the federal funding available,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., during a news conference Monday morning in Litchfield, where she met with area turkey producers at the Meeker County Family Services Center.

Klobuchar said she spoke with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack over the weekend, and he is committed to accessing emergency funds for avian influenza.

Most of the money is being spent to compensate farmers for birds that are euthanized when the influenza is confirmed on a farm site.

Farmers currently receive no compensation for turkeys that die from influenza.

“My immediate focus is to make sure the money is there to compensate for what’s allowed to be compensated,” Klobuchar said. “That’s a significant amount of money when you’re looking at the country.”

Klobuchar said funding for additional research, such as a vaccine, may also be proposed as well as funding for retrofitting barns to help reduce disease-laden debris from blowing into barns.

She said not knowing exactly how the disease is being spread — and the possibility that a second wave may hit this fall — makes the issue particularly challenging.

“That’s why we’re pushing for more research funding on the federal and state level,” she said, adding there may be some changes to some of the federal funding rules to make it “as easy as possible to operate and stop this disease from spreading.”

Steve Olson, executive director of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association, said replacing side ventilation curtains on turkey barns with fans, providing showers for workers before they go in and out of barns and providing connecting hallways between barns on farms are some retrofit options being discussed.

But Olson said making that kind of a financial investment now, when many area turkey producers will only be able to produce half the number of turkeys this year because of avian influenza, will be financially difficult for growers.

During the meeting with growers, Klobuchar said producers were “pretty frank” about the challenge the avian influenza has had on their families and that if it continues, “a lot of producers are in danger of losing everything.”

Olson said the ripple effect on the economy will be felt by corn and soybean farmers, people employed by turkey producers and small town businesses that support the industry.

“Sometimes we forget it’s not just the one producer, it’s all the companies that have grown out of this industry that employs thousands and thousands of people and all the businesses around it,” Klobuchar said.

But for turkey growers, it’s not just about the finances.

“There’s sadness for these producers, Klobuchar said. “They love these birds. They see them as part of their family.”

Olson said the Turkey Growers Association is working with the University of Minnesota Extension and state Department of Agriculture on ways to help growers explore financial options for restructuring debt.

But they are also providing resources for “that personal, that emotional, that mental health aspect” to dealing with the loss, Olson said.

There has been a reluctance among many turkey farmers to talk to the press about avian influenza, and Olson did not reveal the names of producers or businesses who met with Klobuchar.