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Thanksgiving turkeys cheaper this year. Thanks, trade war.

Producers say competition from chicken, pork pushing down costs

The Gazette

Brandon Achen at turkey processor West Liberty Foods says that larger domestic availability for pork is creating competition for turkey processors across the country and driving down prices for the birds.
The Gazette Brandon Achen at turkey processor West Liberty Foods says that larger domestic availability for pork is creating competition for turkey processors across the country and driving down prices for the birds.

Your Thanksgiving turkey likely will be cheaper than usual this year, as lower foreign demand and competition from other meats push bird prices down.

Prices for corn and soybeans, the primary feed blend for turkeys, are low due ongoing trade disputes.

However, the specific disputes between the United States and Mexico led to the latter country slapping a 20 percent tariff on U.S. pork. That makes pork cheaper across the United States as more of its supply stays in this country.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Wednesday that retail pork prices fell 3.5 percent from October 2017 to last month, and turkey prices fell 4.9 percent in that same time period.

Brandon Achen, vice president of supply chain at turkey processor West Liberty Foods, said that larger domestic availability for pork is creating competition for turkey processors across the country and driving down prices for the birds.

Achen also said chicken prices are nearing five-year lows due to a high number of chicken processors starting production recently on top of a relatively large supply already available.

“That puts pressure on turkey prices if consumers have the option, and if chicken is more affordable for them to purchase, they’ll move away from turkey,” he said.

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West Liberty Foods primarily processes male turkeys weighing over 40 pounds for breasts and other parts, instead of smaller whole-bird hens that often grace Thanksgiving tables.

Nathan Lein, co-owner of Big Boy Meats in the NewBo City Market, said the price decline mostly has been felt by wholesale turkey producers and distributors that sell frozen or processed turkeys found in supermarkets.

His company has been able to charge a premium because they sell farm-to-retail birds from a nearby farm operation.

“It depends on your consumer and what role you’re filling in the food chain,” he said.

“If you’re Walmart, you’re probably getting a lot lower turkeys, but if you’re working with a local producer who’s raising them, processing them himself and delivering it to the consumer himself, that requires obviously a little more effort, a little more handling and a price point commensurate with that.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8366; dan.mika@thegazette.com

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