No. 1 ranked turkey producer Butterball LLC held production steady in 2011 at 1.3 billion live pounds, no change from the previous year. Production restraint among the top-ranked U.S. turkey producers, in fact, continues to be the pattern for 2012, according to WATT PoultryUSA's 2012 Top Poultry Companies rankings.

 Modest or no growth among top 6 producers 

Among the top six turkey producers, only two increased live production in 2011. No. 2 ranked Jennie-O Turkey Store increased slaughter of live turkeys by 4 million pounds or 0.3%. No. 4 ranked Sara Lee increased live slaughter by 10 million pounds or 3%.

Holding slaughter steady at 1.1 billion pounds was No. 3 ranked Cargill Value Added Meats. Meantime, No. 5 ranked Farbest Foods reduced slaughter from 374 million to 360 million pounds.

Mid-size turkey companies grow again

Continuing a pattern set in 2010, mid-size turkey companies continued their growth in live pounds slaughtered in 2011.

West Liberty Foods set the pace for production increases among the mid-size turkey producers, raising slaughter by 48.7 million pounds or 29.6%. The firm jumped from No. 15 to No. 11 in the rankings. It slaughtered 213.3 million pounds of live turkeys in 2011 and projects the addition of another 10.8 million pounds in 2012.

No. 10 ranked Virginia Poultry Growers Cooperative increased its slaughter of turkeys by 21.0 million pounds or 9.4%. The coop slaughtered 245 million pounds of turkeys.

Turkey Valley Farms, the No. 16 ranked company, increased its slaughter of turkeys by 18.0 million pounds or 13.6%. It slaughtered 150.0 million pounds of turkeys in 2011.

Other mid-size gainers

Other mid-size turkey producers increasing slaughter in 2011 included No. 7 ranked Foster Farms up 14.8 million pounds or 5.7%; No. 12 ranked Cooper Farms up 12.0 million pounds or 6.2%; No. 13 ranked Dakota Provisions up 5.0 million pounds or 2.5%; No. 17 ranked Prestage Foods up 9.0 million pounds or 6.9%; No. 18 ranked Zacky Farms up 1.1 million pounds or 0.8%; No. 19 ranked Norbest up 1.9 million pounds or 1.8%; and No. 23 ranked Koch’s Turkey Farm up 0.6 million pounds or 4.0%.

Two mid-size producers hold production the same

Among the 12 turkey producers ranked No. 8 through No. 19 in the WATT PoultryUSA survey, only two reported no growth in production. No. 8 ranked Perdue Farms held production at 271.0 million pounds. No. 14 ranked Hain Pure Protein Corp. held production at 182.0 million pounds. None of the 12 producers decreased production.

Notable business

Butterball, LLC, closed the Longmont, Colo., facility, December 31, 2011. The company said the action was necessary due to increased grain and other input costs and to streamline operations.
Jennie-O Turkey Store  operating profit was up 43% in the company’s fiscal year ended October 30, 2011; volume was up 1%; dollar sales were up 12%.

Farbest Foods  is expected to start construction of a $70 million turkey processing plant in Knox County, Ind., this year. Farbest officials say that once their plant is up and running it will process 18,000 turkeys every shift.
Sara Lee  announced its intention to split into two separate publicly held companies – “CoffeeCo” (International Coffee & Tea) and “MeatCo” (North American Meats). Sean Connolly will serve as chief executive officer of MeatCo.

Capital improvements

Farbest Foods  invested $10 million in capital improvements in 2011 including in a wastewater system and a brooder hub facility. The company has budgeted $5 million in 2012 for an additional brooder hub facility and automated processing equipment.

Dakota Provisions  invested in the following capital improvements: by-products facility $7 million, IQF processing $2 million, information systems $1.5 million and water treatment $800,000. Capital improvements planned for 2012 include a $25 million expansion of the plant’s ready-to-eat, distribution and warehousing facilities.

Michigan Turkey Producers  expanded raw processing prior to cooking in 2011.

Norbest  has budgeted $4.1 million for the addition of new pellet milling equipment in 2012.

Koch’s Turkey Farm  introduced a value-added product line in 2011. The company plans to expand its modified atmosphere packaging to increase its line of value-added products in 2012.