Thanks to the pandemic, 2020’s Thanksgiving celebrations saw massive cancellations for large turkeys as gatherings were kept to minimal sizes. Turkey farms like Old Glory Farm, received increased demand for smaller turkeys to compensate – with the overall number of turkeys being fewer than normal. Despite this, owners Kyle and Deanna Scott made sure to keep their processing appointment with Twin Cities Packing of Clinton, one of the few processing plants for independent farmers in Wisconsin, as they had been, a year in advance for the normal quantity of turkeys. Now the couple is reporting that they’re happy they did so, as this year, demand for large turkeys returns back to pre-pandemic levels – even selling out faster than they had the previous two years.
But across the rest of the country, it seems, a national shortage has begun creating worry for both consumers and farmers alike. Factors such as lack of workers and lack of processing plant availability could make fresh, smaller turkeys hard to find this Thanksgiving.
According to Consumer Reports, most discussion around a national shortage is “an overstatement,” but regardless, turkeys under 16 pounds will be tricky to find – you’d have better luck buying your turkey frozen than fresh if you plan to serve it this holiday season. The report reveals that small farms and big processors alike are being affected by the overall supply chain issues. Continued shortages of labor, transportation, and even packaging materials are issues imposed by the aftermath of the ongoing global pandemic.
“The challenges we face, primarily around labor and transportation, are no different than most, but has had an impact on our ability to keep pace with demand,” said Butterball Turkey spokesperson Christa Leupen on the national turkey shortage. Leupen explained that over the last 18 months, Butterball’s processing line speeds have varied, sometimes even slowed by 30 percent. Smaller Wisconsin farms’ poultry shortages are more likely from a lack of processing plants around the state than it is a lack of turkeys.
Though some companies are not as affected by these issues. Dave Greening, general manager of Organic Prairie, part of Organic Valley cooperative, has said that the La Farge coop hasn’t experienced these issues with supply chains – they’re kept small due to steady relationships with local farmers and processors, and report being ready to serve the state for Thanksgiving. But for smaller, independent businesses that process and sell from their farms, traveling outside the state to get their processing needs fulfilled may be the only options. “It’s common for people to have to go to Illinois … up to three hours away just to process birds,” said Deanna Scott. Despite this need, the demand for further plants within the state isn’t being met. Poultry sales peak in the summer and holiday season before dropping off sharply in January through May, providing little incentive for more processing plants to be built. This coincides with the cost justification for the plants and farmers – the amount of money made isn’t worth the amount of poultry processed, which can lead to bigger turkeys will be more widely available in the state than smaller ones. “If there is a specific size turkey you want, we encourage you to shop early,” Leupen said. “The good news is that it is just as easy to cook a larger turkey as it is a smaller turkey, and the larger turkey means more leftovers – which for many people is one of the best parts of the Thanksgiving meal.”