Virginia turkey production projected to increase in 2020, despite national decrease

Virginia News

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Gobble gobble the turkey industry is starting to wobble. Turkey production in the United States is expected to decrease by around 7 million birds from last year.

According to the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, 222 million turkeys are forecasted to be raised in the United States in 2020.

However, getting a Thanksgiving dinner raised right here in Virginia may not prove too difficult. Virginia ranked sixth nationally in Turkey production in 2019 and this year are projected to raise even more turkeys.

“We have really continued to produce turkeys like we always have,” local turkey farmer J.T. Anderson said. “Consumer preferences may change this Thanksgiving. I think there will be plenty of supply to meet the demand. But we, as an industry, have to steadily adjust to consumer changes.”

A report from the National Agricultural Statistics Service says Virginia turkey production is projected to be 16.3 million while last year was 16 million.

“Virginia is the original turkey production state, and our farmers continue to be major producers in the U.S. despite shifting market trends,” said Tony Banks, senior assistant director of agriculture, development and innovation for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “Local consumers can count on Virginia-raised turkeys to be fresh and readily available throughout the year.”

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the top five turkey producing states are Minnesota, North Carolina, Missouri, Indiana and Arkansas. The United States is the world’s largest turkey producer and consumer.

In Goochland, the Andersons’ farm is capable of housing up to 51,000 turkeys.

“On a day-to-day basis, we’re checking the birds three times a day and looking at, is the barn producing what we need it to produce? Is it giving healthy, clean air? Are we getting good water flow? Is everything working the way it should? Do the birds look happy?” turkey farm co-owner Kate Anderson said. “That’s an important thing — are they responding well to what we’re doing — because everything can be adjusted to what their needs are.”

The Andersons tell 8News that they’ve been in business for several years, during which time, consumer preferences have shifted.

“When we first started in business, I think the target size was around 17 pounds or something,” J.T. said, “and that’s dropped down in size, even before the pandemic.”

Although Thanksgiving gatherings are expected to be smaller this year due to coronavirus concerns, the Andersons are forging on with turkey production, despite the challenges of the pandemic.

“We use PPE ourselves. We used to use N-95 masks to control dust and things like that, so we have not been able to get those type of supplies, and if we do, in very limited quantities,” J.T. said. “Then also, one of the biggest changes has just been changing schedules. We have had our children here. They were doing virtual learning for a few weeks, and of course, back in the springtime when schools were closed, we were watching them, in addition to doing all the farming. With farm work, whether the kids are home or whether the weather is bad or whatever, the work has to get done.”

The flock of birds currently housed at the Andersons’ farm is considered a holiday flock for Thanksgiving, the production of which began earlier this year.

“With our industry and with turkey, it does take time, so the wheels of motion for this Thanksgiving were set way back several months ago, even before the pandemic started, so the supply chain for this year’s birds is pretty well set,” J.T. said. “But, moving forward, if we do need to change and do things a little bit different, I feel sure that we, as an industry, will do that.”

While Banks is not aware of any issues with the turkey supply chain at the retail level, he thinks restaurants could see a spike in business this holiday season.

“Especially with restaurants that are looking to pivot and try to make up for some of the lost business related to negligible foot traffic,” Banks said, “I think we’re going to see a lot of food service-type businesses that are going to be preparing turkeys and I think that’s — we might see some demand shift there to those types of businesses.”

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