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Turkeys May Gobble Up More Grocery Budgets Due To Bird Flu Deaths

Cooper Farms

  Bird flu that spread to several Midwest states this year killed more than 50 million turkeys and chickens.  Fortunately for Ohio turkey farmers, the flu never affected their flocks.  Yet they still are dealing with a changing turkey marketplace which could mean higher prices for some turkeys at the grocery store.

The following is an automated transcript of the above conversation, please ignore all minor typos or inaccuracies. 

Debbie Holmes: Bird flu that spread to several Midwest states this year killed more than fifty million turkeys and chickens. Fortunately for Ohio turkey farmers the flu never affected their flocks. Yet they still are dealing with a changing Turkey marketplace, which could mean higher prices for some turkeys at the grocery store. Gary Cooper is with Cooper farms in Oakwood in northwest Ohio. Now coming up next month is Thanksgiving when most Americans eat turkey. Yet many birds have died this year due to avian flu. Although that hasn't happened here in Ohio. But what has happened in other Midwestern states affected your turkey farm.

Gary Cooper: Yes you're exactly right, Debbie, here in Ohio we've not had any, what they call, high path avian influenza infections. Well actually I think ever, but for sure not the last year. And so us poultry producers here in Ohio, so far, are fine and we are really securing up our biosecurity in the face of further migratory birds coming south for the for the winter this fall. 

DH: Now will that have an effect on prices for your farm. 

GC: For sure all across the nation. Turkey prices have escalated at the farm level at the stores in the restaurants. You may see a bit of a change. But I don't believe it's impacted the restaurants and the grocery stores as much as our prices at farm level has went up because it's just purely a supply and demand type situation with losing eight million Turkeys out of a crop of about 250 million being produced this year which I think is relatively about three to three and a half percent. It will cause prices to go up eventually.

DH: I understand the wholesale price of Turkey has gone up within the past year once again. Turkey breast is now at $5.75 a pound compared to $4.05 a year ago.

GC: Yes for sure. The prices have went up. But you have to also understand that most unlike most businesses. We have longer term contracts with our customers that are at fixed prices so even though the market out for the open turkeys has went up like you're mentioning, for many of our customers we had already set a price. And so we are receiving approximately the same thing for some of our products and the customers are also paying about the same thing. But that will change because there's less supply. And as everybody renews their new contracts. They'll probably be requesting more sales increase.

DH: So then do you think in this is sometime next year that consumers will see the price hike?

GC: For sure, I think it is and I'm sure that it's already happened. You know out in the marketplace, and every month that goes by the impact is really hitting about right now because when those turkeys were lost they were at varying ages in April, May, June of this past year. And it takes about five months to raise a Tom Turkey. In about four months we raise a Hen Turkey, so we are just coming into the markets for those. But having said that for Thanksgiving the balk of all retailers pre-purchase their turkeys back in the winter from companies so they assure themselves turkey supply. So prior to losing all these turkeys to high path AI, Many retailers probably had already bought their whole frozen birds for this year.

DH: And that's why consumers won't be seeing much of a price change this year.

GC: Well that's my guess that they sure they'll see a price change but it probably won't be the full impact that's really out there. I think that moving into 2016 there's a potential to be even more of a price increase. Just because you know you're into it for the whole year then.

DH: Well thanks so much I've been talking to Gary Cooper of Cooper farms about the avian flu and turkeys.

GC: Thanks so much. 

Debbie Holmes has worked at WOSU News since 2009. She has hosted All Things Considered, since May 2021. Prior to that she was the host of Morning Edition and a reporter.