Avian influenza is not expected to disrupt Thanksgiving turkey prices and stock this year, a Texas A&M poultry scientist says.
Following a three to four month break from avian influenza, the poultry industry is experiencing again another outbreak that has swept across the U.S. beginning in early October. But this one isn’t expected to disrupt holiday turkey prices as much as last year, according to a new report from Texas A&M AgriLife.
Unlike last year, when the avian flu — detected in a commercial poultry flock in February — killed about 6.4 million turkeys, just about 2.9% of the country’s annual turkey production. With the compounded effect of the avian flu, inflation and higher operating costs for farmers, consumers paid more at the grocery store.
Greg Archer, a poultry specialist at the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, says more than 1.4 million poultry nationwide, including 800,000 turkeys, have been lost due to the outbreak. Last year, the poultry industry lost almost 60 million birds including egg laying hens and turkeys between February and late December. Outbreaks decreased this year, but winter bird migrations including waterfowl triggered a new outbreak, Archer said.
Meanwhile, the USDA National Weekly Turkey Report does not show turkey prices reaching last year’s high. The fresh market price for 8-16 pound and 16-24 pound whole turkeys is between $1.16 to $1.74 per pound, and for frozen 8-16 pound and 16-24 pound whole turkeys it ranges between 91 cents per pound to $1.22 per pound.
Still, consumers might want to plan ahead, just in case the latest avian influenza begins to affect turkey prices. With the holiday fast approaching, Archer says it’s best to buy your bird early and store it in your freezer in case of future price increases.
Bird flu hits turkey populations especially hard because of the time it takes to raise birds from hatch to harvest and flocks raised in open-sided houses, per Texas A&M AgriLife. Hatchling turkeys reach harvest weights in 10 to 18 weeks, so they are at an increased risk of potential exposure to the pathogen. Producers follow biosecurity and sanitary practices to help prevent it from entering their facilities, but avian influenza pathogens that do enter lead to total flock losses. It takes 3.5 to 5.5 months to replace a flock lost to the disease.
“Until we figure out a way to fully prevent it from entering the industry, the disease will continue to mutate,” Archer said.
TIPS FOR TURKEY SHOPPING
“Folks still want turkey. They’re still purchasing it and looking for it. More often than not, we have questions from folks who can’t find a specific turkey product right now, or maybe it’s not available in their local deli,” National Turkey Federation spokesperson Beth Breeding told the Star-Telegram last year.
Here are some tips from Breeding on how to deal with that:
Take advantage of grocery stores’ special deals and discounts on turkeys around the holidays.
If you aren’t able to find your preferred turkey brand, continue to check with your local grocery store about when it’ll be getting that product in.
If there is a specific weight or type of turkey that you want, start planning now and shop early.