With Thanksgiving just days away, turkey producers have hit their crunch time. This year, however, a growing number of Americans seem likely to get their bird from a small local farmer rather than a big poultry operation.
Turkey consumption and production is on the rise in the United States, according to the National Turkey Federation. And as more Americans care about eating poultry that wasn’t injected with antibiotics, is labeled “organic” and is raised “free range,” small farmers around the country see a business opportunity. To be sure, brands like Butterball, Hormel and Jennie-O still account for the vast majority of year-round turkey sales, but small turkey farmers—even backyard farmers—are able to take advantage of consumers seeking a healthier option and looking to buy local.
Some states are even promoting turkey sales among small farmers. In Kentucky for instance a new program called Homegrown by Heroes allows veterans who become farmers display the program’s logo on their products. That program is helping more veterans start small farming operations, with turkey farming being a popular choice, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.
The number of Kentucky farms that produce turkeys in the hundreds to thousands per year is expected to rise from six this year to nearly 40 next year, according to Jamie Guffey, executive director of the Kentucky Poultry Federation. "With the increase of turkey production in the state, our overall poultry business, which now is about $950 million, will go over $1 billion next year," he said.
Another issue that’s giving a boost to small turkey producers this year: Butterball is suffering a shortage of large turkeys, likely due to rising grain prices and hotter weather. That means that more consumers will need to look elsewhere for large turkeys this year. “The shortage of large Butterball turkeys … will open up the market to everybody,” Mary Pitman of Mary’s Turkeys, which sells organic, free-range turkeys near Fresno, California, told FoxNews.com.
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