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US Thanksgiving turkey costs up, flocks down

Prices for frozen whole uncooked turkeys rise 15.6%

23 November 2021, at 8:54am

US families will pay more for their Thanksgiving feast this year after more farmers were cautious with production.

The price of frozen whole uncooked turkeys in the four weeks before 6 November rose 15.6% from the same period in 2020, reported Reuters.

Last year, food companies and farmers predicted many consumers would downsize Thanksgiving. This year, vaccinations eased worries for some while others remain cautious.

Turkey farmers begin considering the size of their flocks for Thanksgiving up to a year ahead of time. Since then, they have confronted skyrocketing costs of feed grains and soybeans.

Diestel Family Ranch, which produces turkeys in Sonora, California, raised birds of about the same size for 2021 as it did for 2020, farmer Heidi Diestel said, avoiding guesses on how the pandemic would change demand. The ranch added a few extra petite birds that weigh six to 10 pounds, she said, because they can be eaten year round if not sold for the holidays.

"Trying to predict this crazy world seemed like we should leave that to others," Diestel said. "We didn't really want to go there."

Butterball, the largest US turkey producer, normally surveys consumers once a year to gauge Thanksgiving plans. In September, it found consumers were more cautious about larger gatherings, after showing enthusiasm in June for celebrations with extended family and friends, said Al Jansen, an executive vice president.

"Everybody still wants to celebrate Thanksgiving," Jansen said. "What altered was the type of celebration."

Frozen inventories of hen turkeys, female birds that are normally smaller in size, and turkey breasts fell to record lows this year and were down 19% and 51% from last year by the end of September, respectively, the US Department of Agriculture said.

The agency said wholesale hen turkey prices in September reached about $1.44 per pound, the highest level since recordkeeping began in 2005. Supplies of bigger tom turkeys in cold storage facilities are up, according to official data.

"Smaller sizes may not be as plentiful as previous years because of all the collateral damage from the pandemic," Butterball's Jansen said.

US farmers had already been cutting turkey production before the pandemic due to declining profits, economists said. They raised 214 million turkeys in 2021, down 4% from 2020 and down 13% from 2018.

A Farm Bureau survey from 26 October to 8 November showed Thanksgiving dinner will cost US consumers an average of 14% more this year, the biggest annual increase in 31 years.

The item that saw the biggest price increase was turkey.