Turkey, the traditional star of the Thanksgiving meal, may be expensive and tough to find in 2022 as the bird flu and other issues are affecting the supply chain.
“I’ve never seen anything as crazy as the turkey market right now,” Indiana farmer Greg Gunthorp told The New York Times last month. “I tell people if they are not going to buy one of our turkeys, if they see one in the store, they better pick it up and put it in the freezer.”
Avian Flu Affecting 258 Commercial Flocks in 46 States
One of the biggest turkey problems in 2022 is avian influenza or bird flu which has affected 259 commercial flocks across 46 states and some 50 million plus birds, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
“A particularly persistent and contagious strain carried by migrating birds has killed at least 3.6 percent of the nation’s turkeys, or about 7.3 million birds, so far this year,” The New York Times reported.
The USDA says that avian influenza is caused by the influenza Type A virus which can infect poultry (such as chickens, turkeys, pheasants, quail, domestic ducks, geese, and guinea fowl) and wild birds (especially waterfowl).
“Turkey is no different from chicken or ducks coming flying in from the north … on poultry operations, they’re going to have to take extreme measures,” Cary Sims, Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Services Agent of Angelina County, told KTRE-9 television station.
Avian flu typically peaks with spring migration and then drops off with warmer weather in the summer but this year’s current strain, known as highly pathogenic aviation influenza (HPAI), has continued to spread while holiday meal flocks were being raised.
“These viruses are occurring with a higher level of frequency,” Walter Kunisch, senior commodities strategist at Hilltop Securities told CNBC. “It seems like this year the HPAI is more acute. It’s certainly more widespread in terms of geography.”
Turkey Inflation: Expect to Pay More for Your Bird This Year
When Thanksgiving meal shoppers find a bird available, they can expect to pay more thanks to turkey inflation.
“The ongoing spread of bird flu will likely affect the price and availability of turkeys this Thanksgiving,” said CNBC.
Through September 30, turkey inflation was 10x higher than general inflation soaring to 83.4 percent.
CNBC reported in October that the price per pound for an 8 to 6-pound turkey was $1.99, a 73 percent increase from $1.15 a year ago. The retail price for boneless, skinless turkey breasts rose to a record high of $6.70 per pound in September, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF).
Increased turkey prices were already due to farm-level inflation so prices may go even higher this month as a shortage of whole birds and turkey breasts put a squeeze on the market.
“All of us are feeling the pain of higher prices at the grocery store,” AFBF president Zippy Duvall said in the report. “HPAI outbreaks in the spring and an uptick in cases in the fall are taking a toll, but farmers remain dedicated to ensuring America’s food supply remains strong.”
The AFBF says that “families can expect to pay record high prices at the grocery store for turkey this upcoming holiday season thanks to the impacts of the bird flu and inflation.”
Turkey Supplies Have Been Tight for Years
Those that follow the food industry know that turkey supplies have been tight for years.
“Producers began to cut back on raising the birds back in 2019 after turkey prices crashed. Then the pandemic hit, further curtailing production,” says The New York Times.
Farmers and processors have been paying elevated prices for feed, fuel, and labor, as well as facing drought issues.
The U.S. ongoing turkey shortage will intensify in the runup to Thanksgiving,” said Gro Intelligence. “If that sounds familiar, consider this – the number of turkeys available for slaughter between now and Thanksgiving is over 0.7 percent above 2020 levels and turkey cold storage quantities are currently at a 22-year low.”
Gro Intelligence says it will take time for U.S. turkey production to get back to pre-pandemic levels with production last year of 7.2 billion pounds, some 3.9 percent lower than in 2019.
“This is because turkey producers could not increase production fast enough to meet 2021’s Thanksgiving demand, which surged as COVID-19 vaccines came out. Turkey production is a 54-week process. It takes 32 weeks to raise a layer, another month to incubate an egg, and 18 weeks to grow out a Thanksgiving turkey,” said Gro Intelligence
Thanksgiving 2022 Turkey Shortage Strategies
The publication Real Simple says there are some strategies you can take to fight the 2022 Thanksgiving turkey shortage including:
- Shop Around for the Best Price: We all have our favorite market where we normally get our Thanksgiving meal supplies but this year it will pay more than ever for consumers to shop around and do some price comparison to find an outlet offering turkeys at competitive, or even, discount rates.
- Get that Bird Early: You may have to sacrifice finding the perfect fresh turkey the week of Thanksgiving by scooping up a frozen bird now and stashing it in your freezer until the big day.
- Find a New Meal Headliner: Believe it or not, some families celebrate Thanksgiving each year without turkey as the star of the meal. This might be the year to find another bird such as Cornish game hens or other staples like ham or roast beef to be the meal headliner.
- Make Turkey a Co-Star: You can still have turkey, but if you downplay its role in the meal, making it more of a co-star then you can opt for smaller birds, or just purchase turkey breasts or legs for the meal.