Nov 18, 2022 - Business

Turkey shortage before the largest big-bird day

Illustration of a hundred dollar bill with a turkey in place of Benjamin Franklin

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The U.S. government is warning of a big shortage of big birds this Thanksgiving, and local farms near Houston have already sold out of their limited pasture-raised turkeys.

Why it matters: Because of this year's avian flu outbreaks, finding 20-pound turkeys in some regions of the country could be challenging, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said in a call with reporters earlier this month, Axios' Kelly Tyko and Emily Peck write.

  • The bird flu has killed more than 8 million turkeys, according to CDC data.

What they're saying: "Some of the turkeys that are being raised right now for Thanksgiving may not have the full amount of time to get to 20 pounds," Vilsack said on the call, which was about the administration's effort to reduce meat and poultry prices in the long term.

  • "I don't think you're going to have to worry about whether or not you can carve your turkey on Thanksgiving," Vilsack said. "It's going to be there, maybe smaller, but it'll be there."

Meanwhile, local farms decided to raise fewer turkeys due to the increased cost of animal feed.

  • Michael Marchand, president of Whitehurst Farms near Brenham, says his farm raised only 60 turkeys this year, in comparison to its regular 250 to 30o birds. He adds that the farm, which gets 90% of its customers from Houston, was not impacted by the avian flu.
  • It sold all of its heritage and pasture-raised turkeys for $150 to $225 — $3 more per pound, to make up for the cost of feed almost doubling.

Context: Heritage birds take six to seven months to raise, while the other pasture turkeys take four to five months.

  • Despite the increased costs, Marchand says, customers are willing to spend extra for the showpiece meal on the biggest food holiday of the year.

Zoom out: Thanksgiving turkey prices are up around 28% compared to this time last year, USDA data shows.

  • The price of an 8- to 16-pound turkey has risen to $1.47 a pound, up from $1.15 last year.
  • The recent Consumer Price Index showed prices for uncooked poultry, which includes turkey, increased 17% in September from the same month last year.
  • Yes, but: H-E-B is giving away Riverside turkeys of up to 12 pounds with the purchase of an H-E-B sliced ham, limit one per person, per the Dallas Morning News.

Between the lines: It's not just turkeys that will cost more this Thanksgiving.

Flashback: Last Thanksgiving, a 16-pound turkey cost $24, about $5 more than the average cost in 2020, according to the American Farm Bureau's holiday survey.


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