The US’ ongoing turkey shortage will intensify in the runup to Thanksgiving. If that sounds familiar, consider this - the number of turkeys available for slaughter between now and Thanksgiving is only 0.7% above 2020 levels and turkey cold storage quantities are currently at a 22-year low.
The US turkey flock is also being whittled down by the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) outbreak that started just ahead of wild birds’ spring migratory season. In the US, about 6.5 million turkeys — roughly 3% of annual production — have been administratively destroyed because of HPAI, including half a million since August 29.
Gro’s Bird Flu Outbreak Monitor shows how the epidemic has progressed and which parts of the country it has most affected. The summertime bird deaths levels correspond with the lack of seasonal migration of wild birds, which are believed to significantly increase the spread of the virus. The monitor also shows the US’ top turkey producing state, Minnesota, has suffered the highest losses of turkeys from HPAI (3.2 million lost of 40 million produced), but the greatest proportional losses have occurred in South Dakota (1.5 million lost of 12 million produced).
This is bad news for Thanksgiving hosts as wholesale turkey prices are already at $1.10 per pound, 10% above their all-time high, and expected to climb to about $1.20 per pound, 25% higher than last year’s price as the holiday approaches. The previous wholesale turkey price record of $0.97 per pound was set ahead of Thanksgiving of the 2014-2015 bird flu outbreak.
Elevated food price inflation will likely factor into Thanksgiving planning this year. While year-over-year inflation is down from a recent peak in March, food prices are still 8.5% above year-ago levels, according to Gro’s US Food Price Index, which reflects prices based on consumption of a wide range of food items.
Still, few Americans are likely to skimp on the holiday’s signature dish. And with higher COVID-19 vaccination rates and an almost steady decline in new cases since the mid-January peak, this year’s Thanksgiving gatherings are expected to bear a closer resemblance to pre-pandemic celebrations.
Getting US turkey production back to pre-pandemic levels will take time. Last year, US turkey production was 7.2 billion pounds, 3.9% lower than 2019’s production level. This is because turkey producers could not increase production fast enough to meet 2021’s Thanksgiving demand, which surged as COVID-19 vaccine 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.