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Let’s talk turkey

By EMILY LHAMON

It’s time again to bust out the cranberries and stretchy pants – Turkey Day is right around the corner! Thanksgivings of old relied on a bountiful fall harvest of grain and game. For most American families today, a turkey is the centerpiece of the meal along with new staples. Whatever your feast may include, indulge in these fast facts about America’s almost-national bird!

There are thousands of commercial turkey farms in the US. Most are contract growers for food companies with recognizable brand labels like Butterball, Jennie-O, Hillshire Farms, and Oscar Meyer. Here is a table of the top 10 turkey producing companies in the US. As you can see, these folks pack a punch when it comes to poultry poundage.

— These companies and others produced 245 million turkeys in 2018 valuing $3.88 billion. Of those birds, 765 million pounds were exported to Mexico, alone. Compare that to over 9 billion broiler chickens worth $31.7 billion produced in 2018! (US Poultry & Egg Foundation 2019) These billion-dollar industries help to feed our world population with cheap, wholesome protein!

— Turkey production is a highly seasonal market aimed at peak production around the Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter holidays. However, turkeys are grown and produced year-round. Products like ground turkey, turkey sausage, and deli meats are popular regardless of season and keep companies thriving.

— Turkeys are grown and processed in just about every state in the US. The top turkey producing states are North Carolina, Minnesota, Indiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, Virginia, California, Ohio, and Michigan. Pennsylvania is a top producing state, too! Empire Kosher, located in my area of Juniata County, is the country’s largest producer of kosher poultry meat products. Plainville Farms, Purdue, and Jaindl farms also have their hand in Pennsylvania’s turkey market.

— Why so many birds? In 2016, Americans consumed 16.7 pounds of turkey per person. Last year, we increased our consumption of turkey products 68.92% to 28.21 pounds per capita! Why the increase? Ground turkey is widely used as a substitute for ground red meat. Turkey burgers, turkey bacon, and turkey sausage are marketed as healthier, leaner options. An upturn in the economy may have also led to increased disposable income and increased consumption of turkey during the holidays.

Thanksgiving isn’t just about the turkey, however. It’s a time to give thanks for the blessings we have received throughout the year. I believe one of the greatest blessings is a safe food supply. Poultry, crop, grain, livestock, fruit, and vegetable farms will be well represented this Thanksgiving. Regardless of what food appears on your plate, remember to be thankful for the hardworking hands who put it there.

Now that you’ve heard the who, what, when, where, and why… how about sharing these tidbits with your friends and family around the dinner table? I guarantee you’ll be the smartest turkey in town! Happy holiday, gobble til’ you wobble!

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Emily K. Lhamon is a Poultry Educator with Penn State Extension. She can be contacted through email EXL96@psu.edu or by calling 717-248-9618.

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