WASHINGTON — When you’re on the offensive line, you’ve got to keep your head on a swivel. That’s one thing I was always taught about football growing up. However, that little piece of advice is especially applicable in the turkey business and across the food and agriculture sector today.
Much like on the gridiron, you can’t always know where the next issue will come from or exactly how hard it will hit. Remaining on alert is the best way to tackle the challenges. That’s the mindset we’ve had over the past year and how the turkey industry must continue to think going into 2022.
Neither the turkey industry nor animal agriculture as a whole are unique cases — we have not been immune to many of the challenges other industries have experienced. Nor are these challenges 100 percent in our control, which makes keeping that head on a swivel even more important. Navigating what business looks like almost two years into dealing with COVID-19 has been the primary focus for our industry and will continue to be into the new year. That includes administering vaccines to help protect employees while preparing for inevitable pushback among some workers to various vaccine mandates, a pushback that may affect operations.
This won’t come as a surprise, but another major issue has been disruptions, some significant, in the supply chain. The logistics of moving products where they need to be is always a complex equation. While the supply chain for turkey has kept moving, ensuring a good supply for the holiday season, trucking availability has made that effort more challenging. We also saw feed prices soar this year, making the cost of inputs a concern for turkey growers across the country.
But it’s not all about the challenges. Part of staying on the offense is looking for opportunities. One of the most positive stories we can tell is how the pandemic has changed the way consumers think about food. Eating habits have shifted and consumers are still spending more time cooking at home. With that change has come a greater demand for turkey products, particularly deli meat and ground turkey.
The turkey industry has an opportunity to reinforce this demand for turkey products and the value of turkey compared to other proteins. Along the same vein is the growing momentum behind NTF’s Turkey Smoke program that is connecting competition pitmasters and backyard grillers with turkey. The barbecue segment represents an area where turkey just makes sense, and there is substantial room for growth as NTF and the turkey industry gears up for an even bigger push in 2022 on consumer outreach and product development.
Additionally, the industry continues to focus on growing exports, having provided financial support for November’s USAPEEC Americas Expo in Colombia targeting Central and South American customers. NTF also is embarking on a study on how to how to increase export access to Halal markets.
Another area where NTF members have put in a great deal of effort is continuing the federation’s extensive work and research related to food safety and better understanding salmonella. As a result of this industrywide focus, NTF members are well-positioned to work with USDA on its recently announced initiative to reduce Salmonella illnesses. There are many opportunities through this project to engage with stakeholders across government and industry to further enhance the turkey industry’s top priority of food safety.
Like most things in life, it’s about balance. The lessons learned over the past 12 months will help the industry strike a balance between being prepared for challenges and seizing the opportunities, whatever they may be. I am, however, certain of one thing – our people. I remain continuously impressed by the commitment of the men and women of the turkey industry to their mission of feeding families. It has been an honor to represent them as chairman of NTF, and I look forward to the advancements the industry will make in the next year with their support.
As NTF and our members prepare for a new year, I hope we can put some of the challenges of this year in the rear-view mirror and keep advancing down the field.
Phil Seger is the 2021 chairman of the National Turkey Federation. Seger serves as vice president of live operations for Farbest Farms Inc., headquartered in Jasper, Ind.