wild-turkeyCOLUMBIA, Mo. — This year’s avian influenza wiped millions of turkey from the population, according to poultry specialist Jeff Firman.

“The estimates are somewhere near 50 million birds total – about half of those were layers,” said Firman. “Minnesota is the biggest turkey state in the union and saw significant losses in the turkey industry.”

Consumers across the nation could see a spike in turkey prices before the Thanksgiving holiday. Firman claimed producers are having a difficult time bringing in enough birds.

“You take a million bird operation and you eliminate all those birds overnight, they don’t have new [birds] to go into the house to start to lay eggs, and so they’ve got to reschedule all of that and start to build up those stocks of birds …” Firman explained.

Ron Plain, agricultural economist for the University of Missouri Extension, agreed with Firman. He said stores are scrambling as the demand for turkey will increase later into November and early December.

“Normally they move a lot of turkey into cold storage as we go through January and October, and pull it out in November and December,” Plain said. “Because of avian influenza, overall turkey production is down this year, supplies are likely to be tight …”

Firman suggests getting Thanksgiving Dinner early this year. As the hours draw closer to the holiday, demand will continue to increase as stock is depleted. This could drive some companies to hike prices, according to Firman.

“Prices of turkey are pretty volatile,” Firman said. “A lot of stores use those as loss leaders until you get a relatively cheap turkey to get you in the door.

“So far we haven’t seen any new cases, so I like to think we’re going to make it through the fall okay, but it’s a little bit early to say that. Certainly the companies are on heightened awareness of avian influenza, and heightened bio-security, so if an outbreak of AI starts, we’re probably better prepared for it then we would have been in the spring. Nobody was really expecting it so to speak.”