U.S. prices for whole hen turkeys were consistently higher in 2011 than in 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

On a year-over-year basis, monthly frozen whole hen turkey prices have been higher for the last 25 consecutive months. Both lower stock levels and a strong export market have placed upward pressure on prices, said the USDA. December 2011 prices for whole hens averaged $1.07 per pound, down seasonally from November 2011, but 9 cents per pound (9 percent) higher than 2010. Prices in the fourth quarter of 2011 averaged $1.12 per pound, 8 percent higher than the same time in 2010, and 5 cents per pound higher than in the third quarter. With relatively low stock levels going into 2012, whole hen prices are expected to remain above year-earlier levels through first-quarter 2012, then fall to slightly lower than 2011 levels for the rest of 2012.

Turkey production in November 2011 was 511 million pounds, down 1.8 percent from 2010 numbers. The decrease in production came from a lower number of birds slaughtered and declines in the average weight per bird at slaughter; the number of turkeys slaughtered was down 0.9 percent from 2010 and the average weight at slaughter fell to just over 28 pounds, a decline of 0.6 percent. With the reductions in weights, the estimate for fourth-quarter 2011 turkey meat production was lowered by 10 million pounds to 1.5 billion pounds, up less than 1 percent from 2010 numbers. The turkey meat production estimate for 2012 is 5.8 billion pounds, up 1 percent from 2011, with the majority of the growth coming in the second half of the year, according to USDA numbers.

Ending stocks for all turkey products in the fourth quarter of 2011 are expected to be 205 million pounds, up about 7 percent from the very low stock levels for the same period in 2010. At the end of November 2011, cold storage holdings for turkey totaled 193 million pounds, 11 percent higher than 2010 numbers. The increase was due to larger cold storage holdings of both whole birds (up 18 percent) and turkey parts (up 9 percent), said the USDA. On a year-over-year basis, stocks of whole turkeys have been lower for the last 25 consecutive months. With turkey production expected to be only slightly higher in the first half of 2012 (up less than 1 percent), turkey cold storage totals are expected to remain very close to those for 2011.

For more information and data on U.S. poultry, see www.wattagnet.com/marketdata.html.