You might want to start thinking about what you’ll eat in place of the Thanksgiving staple this year, as shortages of the iconic holiday bird aren’t just on the horizon: they’re already here.
Hold up, where’d all the turkeys go? While there is an overall shortage, the bigger issue is a shortage of the most popular size—fowl under 16 pounds. (Because everyone loves turkey, but no one wants to wait a week for it to thaw, spend more time cooking it, or eat leftovers for two weeks afterward).
And there continues to be a labor shortage. “The labor problem is both COVID-19 induced and follows the trend of an aging and declining rural population where these processing plants are located,” said James Mitchell, agricultural economist with the University of Arkansas.
The result is a 1.5%, or 84M pound, decline in turkey production from 2020 according to the USDA. This, paired with decreasing cold storage inventories, has meant a 13% increase in the cost of frozen whole hens to about $1.16/lb.
On top of that, the cost of meat processing has gone up throughout the pandemic, as processors have made significant investments in their facilities to keep their doors open and employees safe.
And if you’re thinking about ham instead… unfortunately the shortages are not unique to turkey. Per Mitchell: “We have seen similar issues with boneless hams and value-added pork.”