Even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the turkey industry was struggling.

The industry was faced with an oversupply situation, and many of the country’s top turkey companies made adjustments to find balance. U.S. turkey production decreased 2.7% in 2019 from its 2018 levels, which incidentally were about 1.3% lower than the 2017 levels.

In addition, one turkey producer – Zacky Farms – ceased operations in early 2019, while that same year, diversified company Hain Celestial divested of its turkey operation, Plainville Farms.

Then, COVID-19 hit.

The fallout of the pandemic prompted the temporary closure of three Jennie-O Turkey Store plants. It also led West Liberty Foods to the decision to suspend poult placements and eventually furlough 300 employees as it worked through its inventory of turkey meat in cold storage.

The hardships hitting the turkey industry not only affect the processors, but also the farmers who raise the turkeys.

Turkey producers got some good news on September 18, when it learned that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will provide additional financial assistance for producers who have suffered market disruptions and related costs related to the pandemic through the second Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP 2). Independent turkey growers were included among those producers eligible for CFAP 2 assistance.

The National Turkey Federation (NTF) hailed this news.

““The expansion of this program to include turkey clearly responds to industry feedback and recognizes the challenges COVID-19 market disruptions and subsequent foodservice losses have presented for independent turkey farmers over the past several months. NTF looks forward to the rollout of CFAP 2 as we continue our efforts to provide much-needed relief across the turkey industry,” NTF President Joel Brandenberger said in a statement.

Rep. Angie Craig, D- Minnesota, was among those who advocated to get further aid to turkey growers. The freshman congresswoman and member of the House agriculture committee, in a press release, said she had earlier written to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue about her concerns of how turkey growers in her state were facing hard times.

“In Minnesota, Jennie-O Turkey has shuttered plants, drawing concerns about future impacts on turkey growers. The livestock sector is seeing unprecedented losses, which is irreparably impacting countless families and producers in Minnesota. In our state, many independent turkey growers are responsible for all of their input costs, putting them at a greater financial risk. Those growers deserve your help, including the ability to receive Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) funds because of their losses due to COVID-19,” Craig wrote.

“Plant closures remain a growing threat to our turkey growers. While we recognize the need to reopen these plants, we must also protect the health and safety of workers and their families. As farmers make difficult decisions about depopulation due to these closures, we need a strong coordinated national effort to safely protect our natural resources. We encourage USDA to provide additional assistance to find processing capacity and aid in disposal of depopulated birds as needed.”

Upon learning turkey growers are eligible for CFAP 2 aid, Craig said she was “pleased that they will be included,” and added, “We must do everything we can to support them and protect their livelihoods during this uncertain time.”

‘Everything we can’

Craig is right. We should do everything we can to protect turkey growers’ livelihoods.

But you don’t have to be a government official to do so.

In a WATT Poultry Chat interview, industry analyst Mark Jordan pointed out that per capita turkey consumption in the United States has declined substantially since 1993.

I don’t understand that trend. My family’s per capita turkey consumption by far surpasses the national average, and I’m sure it would be even more so if I was my family’s primary shopper.

Turkey is one of those meats I just can’t get enough of. I love the taste, the price is attractive when compared to other proteins, and it can be prepared in a wide variety of ways. I also like buying turkey because I have never met anyone in the turkey business that I didn't like, and I want to do my part to help them.

With that in mind, I’d like to encourage everyone to follow Craig’s words. Let’s do everything we can to help those turkey growers. You can simply start by making sure when you make your grocery list, that turkey is on it.

View our continuing coverage of the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic.