By Ron Kardel
National Turkey Federation
Special to Poultry Times
WASHINGTON — I’m an optimistic kind of guy. After all, most farmers are optimists by nature. Why else would we plant a seed in April and expect a crop in October? Or place 9,000 poults and make plans to deliver a flock of healthy turkeys 20 weeks later?
So, keeping with that trend, I started the year off optimistic about 2020. In February, I was installed as the chairman of the National Turkey Federation (NTF), and what I knew would be an exciting year was underway. But I never could have dreamed of the wild ride this year would bring, and I know others in the turkey industry would echo that wholeheartedly. I’ll just say that I’m still optimistic, by the way…2020 is almost over!
Stay at home orders, the economy at a halt — these were things that didn’t necessarily appear on our radar, even in February when stories of this strange virus had already begun to appear on the news. Nevertheless, NTF members moved quickly in March and April to respond to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The turkey industry, like many others, retooled processing plants to maintain a safe environment for team members. We navigated the intricacies of the supply chain, fulfilling soaring demand for retail turkey products and addressing buildups of foodservice products, including figuring out how to shift some products to other markets as needed. As a turkey farmer who raises birds processed for foodservice, our business faced some significant challenges this year, too. It will be some time before the foodservice segment of the industry is back up to full strength. We all have had to roll with the punches and look for ways to come out stronger.
This likely won’t be a bad thing in the long run. I was taught as a young boy that things need to change. Water in a puddle will go stagnant. Keep it moving, flowing and changing and it will last forever. Perhaps this year’s changes are not what we wanted, but what we needed to adapt.
As we look ahead to 2021, the turkey industry must embrace the challenge. I’ve been impressed by the industry’s performance this year, and there is more we will have to do in the year to come to meet shifting consumer needs and preferences, further enhance worker safety and ensure our supply chain remains dynamic and responsive.
There are several things on the horizon that will help mold the outlook for next year. Learning more about vaccine distribution and priorities for receiving a vaccine is an issue NTF will continue to watch. We will also have new leadership in Washington.
One priority for the turkey industry will be to make sure the next administration recognizes the importance of production agriculture to our economy and the role we play in feeding hungry people. There are many new faces in Congress as well, and with the chambers split, we will have to find a way to consensus to move any meaningful policies that benefit agriculture, including a legislative fix to address ongoing labor challenges and the need for immigration reform.
It has been an honor and a privilege to serve as chairman of the National Turkey Federation. We have a great industry with great people, from the farmers to the workers in the plants to everyone who supports us in raising our flocks.
We are working hard to supply nutritious food to the American people and the world, and the turkey industry is well-equipped to continue this important mission. I look forward to the future.
Ron Kardel is the 2020 chairman of the National Turkey Federation. Kardel, a sixth-generation Iowa farmer, serves as vice chairman of the board for West Liberty Foods in West Liberty, Iowa.