“As God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly,” exclaimed station manager Arthur Carlson in the infamous Thanksgiving episode of “WKRP in Cincinnati.” His declaration came in response to a failed WKRP Thanksgiving publicity stunt dropping live turkeys from a helicopter over a shopping mall. (For those readers who are not aware of the episode go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGFtV6-ALoQ.) Turkeys may not have flown that fateful day for Mr. Carlson, but turkey prices are flying this year at the highest level seen in many years.
According to the USDA Economic Research Service (ERS), wholesale turkey prices in September averaged $1.36 per pound, the highest monthly price since records were kept beginning in 2006 (Figure 1). The rise of turkey prices is the result of many factors. Primary among them is lower production this year because of higher feed costs. Turkeys in storage typically follow a seasonal pattern, building through the year until fall when stocks drop with consumption over the holidays. Figure 2 shows the turkey meat in cold storage this year compared with last year and the 2018-2020 average. The ERS reports that stocks of turkey meat in cold storage at the end of August were off 24 percent compared to the 3-year average and down 19 percent compared to last year. Labor shortages, supply chain disruptions, and transportation issues have also factored into the lower supplies.
Figure 1. Wholesale Turkey Prices, cents per pound
Turkeys are not the only traditional Thanksgiving food experiencing higher prices. The USDA reports food prices were 4.6 percent higher in September compared to September 2020. Thus, this year’s traditional Thanksgiving dinner will cost more. But turkey lovers take heart, analysis by Jason Lusk, an agricultural economist at Purdue University, shows a worker earning a median weekly salary in 2019 had to work 80 minutes to buy a 20 lb. turkey, much less than the 175 minutes one had to work in 1980 to buy the same 20 lb. turkey. Turkeys may be more expensive, but they are also more affordable too.
Figure 2. Turkey Meat in Cold Storage