By Robyn Stewart, ANR Agent
Did you know that 88% of Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving? Over 230 million turkeys are produced in the U.S. every year, with 46 million turkeys eaten each Thanksgiving, 22 million on Christmas, and 19 million at Easter. America’s turkey industry plays a key role in feeding people across the globe and supports our local and national economy.
The U.S. turkey industry is responsible for providing over 450,000 jobs with direct wages of $24.1 billion dollars. Many more people are employed in related industries such as product marketing and distribution, farm and equipment manufacturing, and other services. The direct economic impact of the turkey industry is $35.3 billion dollars, but combining all economic impact, wages, and taxes results in a total economic impact of $109.5 billion dollars. In Georgia specifically, the turkey industry is responsible for over 14,000 jobs creating $830 million in wages and a total economic impact of just under $4 billion dollars.
In 2019, there were 230 million turkeys (about 7.4 billion pounds of meat) raised in the U.S. on approximately 2500 farms. The average American will eat 16.1 pounds of turkey per year, with a total U.S. consumption of 5.3 billion pounds. The top states for production are Minnesota, North Carolina, Arkansas, Indiana, Missouri, Virginia, Iowa, and California. The U.S. exports about 10% or 639 million pounds of its turkey products, with the majority of exports going to Mexico.
Poultry production in general can get a bad reputation, but is well regulated by the USDA and FDA. The average turkey farmer will produce 3 flocks each year, with each flock containing around 15,000 birds. Birds are kept in scientifically designed, environmentally controlled barns that protect them from predators, disease, and bad weather. They are able to move freely around the barn and have fresh water and food provided at all times. Male turkeys, or toms, are raised for about 18 weeks, while female turkeys, or hens, are fully grown at 15 weeks. It takes between 75 and 85 pounds of feed to produce a turkey to maturity. There are no steroids or hormones approved for use in turkeys in the United States. The use of antibiotics is allowed when necessary to help sick birds, but all producers follow FDA regulations on withdrawal periods—or the length of time after administering the antibiotic that the animal is not allowed to be processed into meat.
Nutritionally, turkey has more protein than chicken or beef, fewer calories, and zero trans and saturated fat. The top three turkey products consumed are whole birds, ground turkey, and deli meat. Hens are typically sold as whole birds, while toms are usually processed into other turkey products. The average weight of a whole turkey purchased for thanksgiving dinner is 15 pounds.
Turkey is a big economic player in the U.S. especially around the holidays. My favorite side dish to have is gravy (from the drippings, of course) and mashed potatoes! I hope you all had a safe and enjoyable time with your family last week.