A Different Kind of Virus Threatens To Muck Up Thanksgiving This Year
After the previous two holiday seasons were marked by COVID-19 and its impact, this past spring’s avian-influenza outbreak is pushing up turkey prices. Analysts say flocks greatly reduced as a result — and with the potential for a second outbreak this fall, prices will remain high through the end of 2022.
Farmers in California and Minnesota have reported new cases of avian-influenza recently. To date, the outbreak has spanned 39 states and led to the death of over 40 million birds, 6 million of which are turkeys. It’s the second-deadliest outbreak on record per the Agriculture Department.
Skyrocketing Flightless Bird
Inflation is leading to higher food prices across the board this year, and that’s without this avian-flu outbreak causing further havoc. Two years ago a pound of breast-meat cost under $2, according to research firm Urner Barry. This year, a pound costs $6.50. Turkey hens are 57% pricier than their five-year average. The turkey hen metric and price-per-pound represent record highs.
Hormel Foods (HRL) is the nation’s second-largest turkey processor by volume after Butterball LLC. Executives at Hormel say the avian-flu outbreak severely reduced their supplies, with expected sales volumes expected to be 30% lower this quarter. That sort of reduced supply inevitably leads to higher prices. Hormel says production volume will remain low through early 2023.
Earlier Shipments, Smaller Birds
Even prior to the avian-influenza outbreak, turkey supplies had been dwindling for years. Urner Barry’s research found farmers responded to lagging demand and overproduction by cutting back on flock sizes. Now, even though turkey prices have risen and boosting production makes sense, farmers are having difficulty overcoming elevated animal-feed costs.
If you’re worried about not having a bird on Thanksgiving, the National Turkey Federation says there will be enough gobblers to go around. In the short-term, shortages have been exacerbated by supply chain problems.
Farmers are sending birds to market earlier and at smaller weights to try and get ahead of potential future outbreaks. That could mean smaller turkeys in your roasting pan come the end of November, but at least there will be food on the table.
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