Turkey prices have been on the rise with Thanksgiving Day still more than a month away, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.

Market forces coupled with a force of nature–avian influenza–have disrupted the supply chain and caused turkey prices to trend upward, leading to shortages for some wholesale buyers.

As Thanksgiving approaches, consumers will contend with higher prices on wholesale turkeys.

Wholesale prices for whole turkeys are sky high, said David Anderson, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension economist, Bryan-College Station. Last year, turkeys reached a record high of $1.39 per pound in early November, but that price had climbed $1.79 per pound by Oct. 15, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

Anderson said the primary driver of this increase on already historically pricey whole birds has been bird losses to highly pathogenic bird influenza outbreaks over the past several months. The highly contagious and deadly avian influenza began hitting U.S. poultry production this spring, with the first case in a Texas poultry flock reported on April 2.

The USDA-Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service reported more than 47.45 million commercial poultry birds, including broiler and egg-laying chickens, turkeys and various fowl have been lost to the virus that has been reported in 42 states, including Alaska.

The disease has hit hard certain production farms that have egg-laying chicken flocks and turkeys. For this year, turkey production is about 5% less than last year. 

“The outbreaks may not be making headlines, but they are popping up here and there still,” Anderson said. “I saw that it wiped out 50,000 turkeys at a farm in California, and it is happening to other poultry farms. These occurrences have dramatically impacted wholesale turkey prices and availability for some businesses.”

No shortage of turkeys for Thanksgiving

Anderson said the avian flu impact on turkey is especially disruptive because the length of time it takes to grow them–eggs incubate for 28 days and another 10-18 weeks for those hatchlings to reach their harvest weights. That means turkey flocks, and other longer-term poultry like egg-laying hens, are at risk of potential exposure to the pathogen. It takes 3.5-5.5 months to replace a flock lost to avian influenza.

Holiday shoppers should not fret, he said, but they should be prepared to buy early or shop around for a Thanksgiving Day centerpiece turkey.

The good news is that Anderson is not concerned about a shortage of whole birds for the holidays. Stocked turkey supplies build throughout the year to make sure they are available to major grocers in November. Most grocers have order contracts with suppliers that are set up to a year in advance. Demand from Demand from big buyers like major grocers will be the priority when it comes to the available supplies.

Anderson said cold storage stocks of whole turkeys are about 3% lower than last year according to USDA cold storage stocks data, which indicates suppliers are working to meet holiday demand. While the data shows about 13% fewer tom turkeys in storage, there are about 12% more hens in storage. The price of whole turkeys could be higher at grocery stores, he said, but grocers may also take losses on whole birds as features or specials to entice consumers into stores in the hopes they continue shopping for other items.

Consumer preferences on turkey brand, size, fresh or frozen could all play into the price and availability, Anderson said. But grocers also know consumers might consider other options – a ham or rib roast–and competitive deals by one store could drive others to commit to a more enticing deal.

“As a consumer, it might be a good idea to have a strategy this year,” he said. “Last year, when prices were high, I went to the store the first day because we wanted a particular size. The store had specials on them then, but then I saw a store had a terrific deal on turkeys the day before Thanksgiving. They had turkeys still on hand and needed to move them., and that translated into lower prices.”

Smaller-scale buyers, businesses impacted most

When it comes to turkey, historically there are two major markets for birds–deli meat and whole birds for the holidays. There is niche demand for turkey legs around fair season and consistent demand for turkey breasts from restaurants, but the bulk of turkey is committed to deli meats and Thanksgiving.

While large grocers and big buyers of turkey may be facing higher prices, the demand for whole birds and turkey breasts amid a continuing avian influenza outbreak is stressing smaller-scale buyers such as local meat markets and restaurants.

The local deli that brines and bakes its own birds or barbecue joints with smoked turkey are struggling to find wholesale sellers willing to part with stock.

“I’ve had this conversation with multiple mom-and-pop businesses about the wholesale turkey supply,” he said. “It’s not because they’re high priced; it’s that they can’t even get them, and that’s really hurting those smaller buyers.”

AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:

CENTRAL                                                                                                                                

Very dry conditions continued throughout the area. Overall soil moisture was 100% very short, range and pasture conditions were 95% very poor. Overall crop conditions were 85% poor and livestock conditions were 75% poor. Winter grazing was a huge concern since most producers have already been supplementing baled forage. Stock tanks were dry, and many streams had become stagnant and choked with algae. There is a deficit of 16 to 25 inches of rain for most of the area over the past year. Small grains planting was delayed due to lack of moisture. Desert termites, army worms and aphids were not helping the light yields in coastal fields and pecans.

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ROLLING PLAINS

Some areas received rain, but the region remained dry overall. Pasture conditions were poor but improved somewhat. Cattle producers have been feeding hay or caking for supplementation. Most winter wheat is in the ground but very little has emerged. Cotton was beginning to defoliate with mixed opinions on yield. Only irrigated cotton remains to be harvested with dryland cotton being insured out. Wheat is in the ground and producers will wait to see what happens. Army worm numbers are lower. Wheat drills were running all last week. Fertilizer was being put out in hopes of an inch of rain.

COASTAL BEND 

Dry conditions with hot temperatures prevailed. Fields with surplus topsoil and subsoil moisture at the end of September had started to revert to less-than-adequate moisture levels. Fieldwork continued to eliminate volunteer grain grass and weeds. Range and pasture conditions continued to decline. Some hay was being made, with the possibility of getting one more cutting before frost. Livestock producers continued to wean calves and cull cows. Livestock market prices remained steady to higher. Pecan harvest prospects were looking poor.

EAST

Drought conditions worsened across the region and burn bans were implemented in some counties. Pasture and rangeland conditions were poor to good. Subsoil and topsoil conditions were short. Ponds were very low. Cattle culling strategies continued. Livestock was in fair to good condition with some supplementation taking place. Wild pig and gopher activity was reported.

SOUTH PLAINS

A few welcomed showers covered the area over the weekend, giving early planted winter cover crops some much-needed moisture. Pastures improved somewhat. Harvest aids were continuing to be applied in cotton. Some gins in the area indicated they will begin ginning soon. Preemergent herbicide was applied to turfgrass to prevent weeds from emerging. Cattle were in good condition.

PANHANDLE

The region remained very dry and moisture was desperately needed. Overall soil moisture was 100% short. Overall range and pasture conditions were 100% poor and overall crop conditions were 72% fair. Harvest was ongoing for corn and grain sorghum. Due to prolonged drought earlier in the growing season and high demand for forage, additional fields of irrigated corn were being harvested for ensilage purposes instead of grain. Cotton was not yet ready for harvest. Wheat was being planted but needed moisture to germinate. Some fields were being watered for pasture. Cattle were being supplemented on- range or when shipped to market. Calves were being weaned early.

NORTH 

Soil moisture was short for most of the region. Conditions continued to degrade due to prolonged drought. Some producers have decided to plant wheat and oats without the necessary moisture. Many ponds and stock tanks were drying up. Hay supplies were still critically low. Grasshopper populations were high in some areas.

FAR WEST

The weather was seasonable with some slow rains over most of the region. Producers reported from 0.10 up to 6 inches of rain. Temperatures fluctuated with nighttime temperatures from the 50s and 60s to daytime temperatures in the 60s and 70s. The rain and mild weather were expected to help the winter wheat planted over the past few weeks. Rangeland and pastures were expected to take more time to recover considering the shape they were in. Cotton harvest resumed at the end of the week, and many fields were defoliated in preparation for harvest. The cotton crop will be minimal this year. Livestock was in poor to fair condition and producers continued to feed and water to supplement nutrition. Producers continued with their shipping seasons.

WEST CENTRAL 

There were cooler-than-normal nighttime temperatures, and the entire region was short on rain. Many producers chose to hold off on planting small grains until it rains, while several have decided not to plant this year due to drought, high input costs and limited seed availability. In some areas, wheat was still being planted. The remaining cotton was maturing quickly and in poor shape. Some cotton was being sprayed with harvest aids, so harvest will soon follow. Livestock producers continued to cull animals and more producers brought in hay from out of state

SOUTHWEST

Continued drought conditions persisted even though a front moved into the region bringing precipitation to most of the area. Most areas received rainfall of three-fourths of an inch or more. However, crop conditions remained roughly the same as before. Cooler and decent rain chances were predicted for the start of next week. Wheat and oats were being planted. The winter wheat and oats should show significant improvements as moisture in the soil profile was improving in the remaining fields. Deer were thin and some supplemental nutrition was provided. Supplemental feeding continued as seasonal plants began to go dormant.

SOUTH

Most of the district reported very short to short soil moisture levels with dry weather conditions. The cotton harvest was moving along as was the peanut harvest. Row crop farmers were preparing their fields for the next crop and vegetable farmers were planting cool season vegetables, with many already emerged. Some farmers had begun preparing their fields for and planting spinach. Some vegetable farmers were planting onions, cabbage and other assorted greens. The citrus harvest started. Field cleaning and cotton stalk destruction continued as did preparation for winter crop planting. On the few acres where sesame was planted and harvested, average yields were being reported. Strawberries should be going into the ground very soon. Pasture and range conditions were from poor to good, and supplementation continued for livestock where conditions were poor. In some areas, overgrazed pastures that were destocked during drought were beginning to recover. Insect damage was extensive on brush species. Ranchers and deer breeders were supplementing some livestock and wildlife. Fields with coastal Bermuda grass were not producing any hay due to the winter cycle of the plant. Bermuda grass pastures were expected to go dormant soon. Hay producers continued to harvest where possible with fallow or failed row crop fields being used to harvest hay. Pecan orchards just began their harvest and yields were expected to be normal. Watermelons and cantaloupes were harvested for the year. There was an unusual run of cattle and calves with above-average volumes offered.  Cattle prices continued to be steady but lower than 30 days ago. Hay prices were $60-$70 per round bale and square bales ranged from $12-$16.