By Jihad Douglas
Special to Poultry Times
WASHINGTON — America’s turkey farmers, processors, breeders and hatcheries are producing turkey in plentiful supply for your Thanksgiving dinner — as well as daily supply of turkey bacon, turkey sausage, deli breast, ground turkey and tenderloin. Turkey’s resilience and wide geographic production locations have maintained the supply reliability of turkey meat nationally, despite one leading production region suffering disproportionate losses to Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza back in the spring. We have examined the swift-moving virus, bolstered biosecurity and prepared the means to fight the spread of HPAI.
Any return of the virus would already be too late to impact the Thanksgiving supply of the consumers’ preferred and widely available stock of frozen whole turkey. Turkeys were already produced and flash-frozen for quality by March, before the beginning of the avian influenza outbreaks. Distributors and supermarket chains had long-before contracted for frozen whole turkey as promotional incentives to the Thanksgiving shopper. USDA’s monthly cold storage report of frozen whole turkey has consistently registered supplies closely matching last year’s inventories. Raised in separate barns, turkeys claimed by the virus were mostly larger toms, not the Thanksgiving Dinner’s preferred-size turkey hens.
This is the National Turkey Federation’s 75th year. The accumulation of experience from three generations brings the benefit of the long view toward this business. Soon after organizing, NTF faced its first challenge — the loss of nearly 2 million turkeys in the Midwest ice and snow of the 1940 Armistice Day storm. While the storm killed one-fourth of Nebraska’s turkey flocks, nearly 5 percent of the national supply of 33 million fresh whole turkeys was lost right before the Thanksgiving holiday. Yet there was indeed plenty of Thanksgiving turkey for dinner in that year before World War II began. Farmers, always with an eye toward next season and fresh opportunities, would work hard and fill their barns again.
The turkey business rides the cycle of consumer demand, having shifted decades ago to year-round sales, and later, the move to deli meat, breakfast meats, and most recently, ground turkey and select cuts like turkey tenderloin. The present-day commitment to increasing consumer demand has carried forward the 20 by 2020 project this year, even as turkey growers and processors have kept a protective watch on newly placed poults.
Our 20 by 2020 project, led by NTF immediate past chairman Gary Cooper, works to increase per capita demand for turkey to 20 pounds by the year 2020. This NTF member-guided plan has engaged restaurant chefs and registered dietitians on the flavorful and healthy selection of turkey on the menu and throughout grocery stores. Chefs searching for new menu items are drawn to turkey meat that can be portioned, seasoned, marinated or paired as an unexpected menu item. Registered dietitians also need new lean, flavorful offerings to recommend with the convenience of ground turkey, sliced turkey breast or new dinner options like turkey tenderloin. The 20 by 2020 project is a multi-year focus that NTF’s Executive Committee has voted to continue with a 50 percent budget increase for 2016.
Developing the future
NTF’s continued focus also remains on commitments for favorable policy where it most impacts those who grow and process turkeys. On behalf of our members, we actively engage federal regulators and work with other meat-producing associations. Members of the National Turkey Federation continue to support removing the negative consequences of the Environmental Protection Agency’s corn ethanol mandate on feed costs. Uncertainty in the marketplace from the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) corn ethanol mandate has caused volatility in the supply of corn available as the crucial ingredient in turkey and other livestock feed. In other areas of federal regulation, NTF has remained at work on the Veterinary Feed Directive, vigilant against disproportionate burdens on growers and processors, on guard against EPA overreach through the Waters of the United States rule and steadfast for commonsense regulation of turkey production.
Hard work and dedication that laid the foundations of experience and solid practices in the turkey business after the spring virus outbreak brought growers back into clean barns with fresh poults. Each new season always brings challenges and opportunities. We come from generations of pioneering leaders, raise healthy animals and have a record of resiliency to continue producing turkey as a wholesome, abundant and reliable lean protein every day.
Jihad Douglas is the 2015 chairman of the National Turkey Federation with offices in Washington, D.C.