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Turkey might be the standout dish of Thanksgiving, but this year, the bird is getting attention for an entirely different reason. Thanks to a raging bird flu – highly pathogenic avian influenza, to be exact – wreaking havoc at farms across the U.S., this holiday staple is in short supple.
The first case of avian flu hit poultry in late February, and since then commercial flocks have taken a bit hit. According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, this flu has killed 6.4 million turkeys in the last eight months.
Unfortunately, this poultry-targeting form of influenza isn’t slowing down, even with Thanksgiving on the horizon. It’s spread primarily by wild birds who transmit the virus to commercial farms and barns. However, despite farmers’ efforts to up their sanitation and protect the health of poultry, they’re coming up short on turkeys. According to the USDA’s estimates, about 2.5 percent of the entire U.S. turkey flock has been lost.
As Walter Kunisch, senior commodities strategist at Hilltop Securities Commodities, told Fox Business, “Year-to-date, 2022 turkey production is the lowest in 10 years and is running 5 percent below 2012 levels.” And it’s not expected to get better in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. Kunisch notes that turkey production for this year is estimated to be -4.3 percent compared to 2021.
But avian influenza isn’t the only crisis causing a turkey shortage. Heading into Thanksgiving, grocery stores and commercial farmers are also seeing the impacts of inflation on farmers’ production costs. Raising turkeys has become extra-expensive as inflation struck the costs of corn, soybean meal, and diesel, causing as much as an 18 percent increase in product costs. This, Kunisch points out, is leading to a decline in turkey weights year-over-year.
So, what does this mean for Thanksgiving dinner?
As Turkey Day draws nearer, it’s time to start shopping for a frozen bird at your go-to grocery stores. According to insights shared with Hormel Foods investors, the poultry processing giant suggested that its turkey supply will be about 20 percent less than usual through early 2023 – and you can expect other turkey producers to see similar shortages.
Preparing in advance is always a smart move, shortage or not. Frozen turkeys will keep indefinitely, though the USDA suggests cooking within one year for the best quality. If your local grocery store already has turkeys in stock, you can grab one now and keep it frozen until a few days ahead of the holiday.
Another alternative is to skip the whole bird and opt for smaller portions. Depending on availability in your area, you may find whole turkeys harder to come by, but plenty of breasts, legs, and other cuts readily available.
Or, skip the turkey altogether and try something different! While poultry is the most commonly-chosen main dish, there are other options that can be a delicious change, like pork loin or a whole chicken. You can even go completely plant-based and make fruits, veggies, and other ingredients the star of your holiday spread.