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'Plan early:' National turkey shortage has not hit the Grand Forks region as hard, but customers should buy now

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a shortage of labor, consumer products and everything in between, and Thanksgiving turkeys are no exception. The National Turkey Federation (NTF) estimates Americans eat approximately 46 million turkeys every year at Thanksgiving, with another 22 million turkeys being eaten around the Christmas holiday season.

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L&M Meats has its turkeys lined up for sale for the Thanksgiving rush. (Jacob Holley/Grand Forks Herald)

Bob Bursheim’s meat retail store is stocked up on turkeys for the season, but consumers hoping for another ration from suppliers before Thanksgiving could be disappointed.

“If you want a 24-pound turkey, no problem,” Bursheim said. “You can get those most everywhere. I think every one of my suppliers has turkeys up in that weight, but anything under 16 pounds doesn’t really exist. They’re all gone.”

Bursheim, the vice president and co-owner of Neil’s Quality Meats & More in Mcintosh, Minnesota, began working on securing turkeys from various suppliers around just before Labor Day. However, he said it will be a three-to-four-week wait to get more if he runs out.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a shortage of labor, consumer products and everything in between, and Thanksgiving turkeys are no exception. The National Turkey Federation estimates Americans eat approximately 46 million turkeys every year at Thanksgiving, with another 22 million turkeys being eaten around the Christmas holiday season.

Retailers expected Americans to have bigger gatherings this Thanksgiving than last year, so many stocked up on larger turkeys instead of more moderately sized ones. CNN reported many stores selling turkeys began sourcing theirs as early as February and March. However, frozen turkey inventory as a whole and other turkey parts were down 24% as of Aug. 31, according to the USDA.

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Frozen turkey inventories are 24% below the 3-year average. (Courtesy of USDA Economic Research Service)

Neil’s Quality Meats & More may be set for the season, but it wasn’t without difficulty. Bursheim said last year was difficult during the height of the pandemic, but this year is even worse. He is thankful he began preparing for the season early.

“There hasn’t been where things are out (of stock), but you can’t always get what you want when you want,” Bursheim said. “That’s the big issue.”

However, some establishments, such as L&M Meats in Grand Forks, have had less trouble. General Manager Jeff Novak said the suppliers he buys from have told him he would be able to get more turkeys if needed.

L&M Meats has sold about 700 turkeys so far this season, which Novak said is comparable to the business it did last Thanksgiving. Nearly all of his turkeys are sold out, but the big rush for customers will begin the week of Nov. 15.

“My opinion is the people that didn’t book (early) had a hard time getting them,” Novak said. “And, you know what this is? They’re all screaming, ‘No birds.’ Prices go up.”

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The storefront for L&M Meats in Grand Forks. (Jacob Holley/Grand Forks Herald)

Some like Linda Albrecht, co-owner of Hickory Hut in Langdon, even report no issues as of the past two weeks, but she said her suppliers have told her that could change at any time. When asked if there was a plan in place in case her suppliers run out, Albrecht did not seem worried.

“We really don’t sell a lot of turkeys after the holidays,” Albrecht said. “Most people buy during the holidays.”

So, why is the turkey situation not as dire in the region as it is in other parts of the country? It could be due to local availability.

Minnesota has 559 turkey farms, which account for 16% of the state's total livestock production and 5% of the state's total agricultural production, according to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. In fact, Minnesota produces more turkeys than any other state -- about 45 million annually -- accounting for 19% of the country’s supply.

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Comparatively, there are nine turkey farms in North Dakota producing about 1 million turkeys each year, according to the NDTF.

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However, those plants are having a tough time due to supply chain disruptions and the ongoing labor shortage, which has affected nearly every industry in the United States. This has affected the output, pricing and time frame in which retailers can expect to receive supply.

As for those looking to buy turkeys for Thanksgiving, Bursheim of Neil’s Quality Meats & More says it’s now or never.

“Plan early and try and get what you can ahead of time, because that’s the safe bet,” Bursheim said.

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Jeff Novak, general manager of L&M Meats in Grand Forks, has seen a good amount of business during 2020. Submitted photo

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