Turkey prices jump before Thanksgiving; family farms seek to gobble up local market

Those looking to put a turkey on the table this Thanksgiving could see significantly higher prices than in years past.

Wholesale prices for frozen turkeys average $1.23 per pound this year, up 14% from $1.07 in 2020 and a staggering 37% from 89 cents a pound in 2019, according to a World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates projection. Prices are closer now to what they were in 2016 when they averaged $1.17 per pound.

The birds averaged the highest monthly price in September since the series started in 2006, according to the USDA. To further complicate matters, frozen turkey inventories are 24 percent below their three-year average volumes, and production of turkeys is down compared to the average year, the USDA said.

While production is down, that doesn’t necessarily mean a shortage of turkeys available for the holiday season, according to Beth Breeding, spokeswoman for National Turkey Federation, a trade association that represents the turkey industry from growers to processors and everyone in between. Breeding said consumers should expect to find deals similar to the ones they have in years past at the grocery store, including the 99-cent mark and possibly even lower.

“I’ve seen a number of those just in the past couple of weeks and expect to see more as we get closer to the holiday,” Breeding said. “Turkey is typically what retailers refer to as a loss leader, so they put those prices a little bit lower to bring folks into the store to buy the rest of the holiday meal.”

The turkey industry faces the same supply chain challenges that other industries nationwide are facing, including labor and transportation, she said.

“We’re working around the clock doing our best to mitigate those lingering impacts and ensure that turkeys are getting where they need to be,” Blessing said.

Credit: Jim Noelker

Credit: Jim Noelker

Small, regenerative farm The Maker’s Meadow in Preble County, 17 miles west of Dayton, harvests its turkeys just five days before Thanksgiving and then delivers the fresh, refrigerated birds to customers’ doors, driving as far from Columbus to Cincinnati.

The family-owned-and-run farm realized the market for pasture-raised turkeys was clearly on the rise so it decided to meet that consumer demand by tripling the number of Broad Breasted White Turkeys it produced from last year.

“It was just ironic ... that there’s a shortage of small, conventionally-raised birds,” said Maker’s Meadow spokeswoman Jana Gruber. “The timing happened to be serendipitous.”

John Filbrun, 28, said his family has been raising turkeys for more than a decade but making them available to the public for the past four years. Customers are willing to spend between $109 to $185 for birds ranging in size from 12 pounds to 18 pounds because they’re free of chemicals, hormones, GMOs and antibiotics, he said.

“One of our goals is to create an environment as close as we can to the way God created the birds to grow in their natural environment,” Filbrun said. “They’re going to be outside, getting plenty of sunshine, insects and grass and being able to roam around and get a diverse diet, which also brings a higher nutrient level to the meat.”

Credit: Jim Noelker

Credit: Jim Noelker

That’s because the birds are eating not just a couple types of grains, but also all types of grasses, legumes and broadleaf plants, he said.

Turkey prices are being affected by the same thing affecting numerous products nationwide: increased grower costs, processing slowdowns, transportation costs and labor costs, according to co-owner Drew Bowman, who handles sales and marketing for Bowman & Landes, a fourth-generation New Carlisle turkey farm that’s been in operation since 1948.

Bowman & Landes’ costs for free-range, veggie-fed turkeys that are antibiotic free have continued to rise along with inflation, Bowman said. The birds, which cost $3.39 per pound in 2016 and $3.69 in 2020, are now up to $3.99 a pound.

Local challenges of getting the farm’s 75,000 birds to market mirror the national economic picture, including “inflationary pressures across the board,” Bowman said.

“The big one is the turkey feed,” he said. “Corn and soybean meal are the main ingredients in our turkey feed and those are up approximately 20 to 25 percent year over year.”

Then there’s the cost of miscellaneous items.

“To package a turkey, it takes a bag and a box and clips and all of those things are quite a bit more expensive than they were a year ago,” Bowman said. “It’s really across the whole supply chain. We’re seeing increases across all of our different categories, essentially.”

While consumers are chowing down on turkey, Bowman & Landes likely will be eating some of the increased production costs, he said.

“It’s not all getting passed on to the consumer,” Bowman said. “Some of it probably is, but I think if we look at our profit margin, it probably will be less than it was a year ago because there’s only so much the consumer is willing to pay, and so we try to be fair about it.”

Credit: Jim Noelker

Credit: Jim Noelker

Orders at bowmanlandes.com are likely to ramp up this week, he said. Walk-in orders at the retail location will continue through the week of Thanksgiving, but options may be limited.

“We’ll probably be sold out of certain size categories,” Bowman said.

Filbrun said Maker’s Meadow expects to sell out before its ordering deadline Nov. 20. His advice to consumers echoes what is being said by turkey suppliers nationwide: “Don’t wait. Order now.”

“In the past, I’ve even gotten calls on Thanksgiving morning and that is unfortunately way too late,” Filbrun said.

Wholesale frozen turkey prices

2016: $1.17 per pound

2017: $0.96 per pound

2018: $0.80 per pound

2019: $0.89 per pound

2020:: $1.07 per pound

2021: $1.23 per pound

SOURCE: USDA; World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates projection

The U.S., Ohio and turkey

Turkey consumption has nearly doubled since 1970 (8.2 pounds per capita).

In 2020, U.S. consumption of turkey was 5.26 billion pounds and 16 pounds per person.

The U.S. turkey industry provides more than 440,000 American jobs with direct wages of more than $24 billion

Ohio ranks ninth nationally in turkey production with nearly 305 million pounds of turkey produced.

Ohio turkey production is responsible for the creation of 21,846 jobs annually and $1 billion in earnings.

Sources: National Turkey Federation; Ohio Poultry Association

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