Thanksgiving turkey prices may be more expensive and birds harder to find. Buy your bird now, the experts say

Donnelle Eller
Des Moines Register
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You've been warned: If you're supplying the turkey for this year's Thanksgiving gathering, buy it now.

"It's inevitable. Some stores will run out of turkeys," said Joe Kerns, president of Partners for Production Agriculture, a commodity risk management company in Ames.

Here's why: Turkey production is down year-over-year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture department said in October. The supply of birds in cold storage through August, the end of the seasonal buildup to the holiday, was 20% below the same time a year earlier.

"If you want a Thanksgiving turkey ... don't waltz into the store two days ahead of time and think you're going to find what you want. It's not in the cards," Kerns said.

Prices likely will be higher, too. Overall, poultry prices forecast to climb 3.5% to 4.5% for the year, the agriculture department says.

More:Consumers should plan for higher beef, chicken and pork prices 

The department's livestock, poultry and dairy forecast said wholesale prices for frozen turkeys in September were the highest on a monthly basis since 2006, when the agency began keeping the data. Turkeys were selling for $1.36 a pound.

Prices have fallen to $1.30 a pound for the week ending Oct. 8, it said, "but are still some of the highest prices of the year."

Disruptions are occurring across the supply chain — from labor shortages at farms, meatpacking plants, warehouses and ports to shortages of aluminum, plastics and other packaging materials, said Jennifer Blackhurst, a University of Iowa professor of business analytics.

"Put it all together, and it’s causing prices to go up," she said.

Jennifer Zwagerman, director of Drake University's Agricultural Law Center, said she expects consumers will encounter temporary spot shortages going into the holiday season, when "everyone is buying the same thing at once."

More:COVID infections among meatpacking workers much higher than previously reported, new report says

"It may require shopping around a bit more," Zwagerman said.

Donnelle Eller covers agriculture, the environment and energy for the Register. Reach her at or 515-284-8457. 

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