Category Archives: Turkey

2/2/21: Daylight Saving Time and Carbon Emissions


We usually associate reduction of carbon emissions with reduced consumption, as opposed to variation in timing of consumption, but this association is both too simplistic and also erroneous. Here is why: shifting more consumption activities toward periods of the day when energy generation mix is cleaner (e.g. daylight, when solar can be contributing more to the energy mix) can, quite literally, reduce overall emissions.

Right? Yep. Here is a nice piece of evidence from a natural experiment in Turkey. "In October 2016, Turkey chose to stay on DST all year round." This shifted a lot more consumption by the public from late afternoons to early mornings. As reported in Bircan, Cagatay and Wirsching, Elisa study "Daylight Saving All Year Round? Evidence from a National Experiment" (December, 2020, EBRD Working Paper No. 251, https://ssrn.com/abstract=3751336), overall levels of consumption did not change much, but "the policy has a strong intra-day distributional effect, increasing consumption in the early morning and reducing it in the late afternoon. This change in the load shape reduced generation by dirtier fossil fuel plants and increased it by cleaner renewable sources that can more easily satisfy peak load generation. Emissions from generation decreased as a result." 

Overall, the authors "find that staying on DST during winter months may have led to a reduction in CO2 emissions of between 1,500 and 8,200 tons per day. Hence, the policy change has an unforeseen but beneficial effect of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, as generation by “cleaner” power plants substitutes generation from “dirtier” ones to satisfy changes in intra-day demand."

Incidentally, the study does not appear to have considered the effects of solar in their study that should have increased the CO2 abatement effects. It is unclear to me as to why...

Turkeys From America’s Farms to the World

The United States is the largest producer of farm-raised turkeys in the world.

That's a statement that raises several questions: How many turkeys are raised on American farms? Where are these turkeys raised within the United States? If the U.S. is the world's largest producer, does it export turkeys to anywhere else in the world?

In 2019, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates the answer is 229 million turkeys! And as for where they are raised within America, we created an interactive map to show where farm-raised turkeys can be found within the U.S.

The answer to the third question is yes, the U.S. does export food products made from farm-raised turkeys elsewhere in the world. In the twelve months from October 2019 through September 2020, at least other 87 nations or their territories received turkey products from the U.S. The U.S. Census Bureau's estimates the value of these turkey products added up to more than $441 million.

As for where they specifically went, we created another interactive map, this time of the world, to visualize which countries imported turkey products from the U.S.

The data for the United Kingdom, France, and the Netherlands includes the value of turkey products exported to their overseas territories, many of which are in the Americas where turkeys are a native species, and which account for bulk of their indicated consumption.

Meanwhile, Mexico is the largest consumer of turkey products exported by the U.S., accounting for over $276 million (63%) of the total value of U.S. exports to the world. China was a distant second at $19.4 million (4%), as it significantly increased its imports of U.S.-produced turkey meat to help meet its 'Phase 1' trade agreement obligations and to partially compensate for its extreme shortage of pork resulting from its 2019 outbreak of African Swine Fever within its domestic hog farms.

Thanksgiving Turkey Stats for 2020

Thanksgiving is the quintessential American holiday, and for many American households, turkey is the centerpiece of their Thanksgiving dinner.

But how many farm-raised turkeys are there? How much turkey meat is produced each year? And how big is an average farm-raised turkey in the United States?

Political Calculations tracks all these Thanksgiving-related datapoints, tapping the U.S. Department of Agriculture's databases going back to 1970, so you can see how American farm-raised turkeys have changed over the past five decades.

Speaking of change, the population of farm-raised turkeys in the United States has generally fallen since 1996. In 2020, an estimated 222 million turkeys were raised on American farms, which is down some 27% from the peak of 302.7 million raised in 1996.

Number of Turkeys Raised on U.S. Farms, 1970-2019, with estimate for 2020

The figure for 2020 also represents a decline of 7 million from 2019's level, which itself was revised downward from an initial estimate of 240 million.

By contrast, the collective live weight of farm-raised turkeys has generally plateaued since 1996, falling within a range between 6.877 billion pounds (1999) and 7.922 billion pounds (2008). The initial estimate of the live weight of 2020's 222 million farm-raised turkeys is 7.175 billion pounds.

Total Live Weight of Turkeys Produced, 1970-2019, with estimate for 2020

The combination of a generally flat total live weight for all turkeys produced on American farms with a falling number of birds can only be explained by the growing size of individual turkeys. In 2020, we estimate the average weight of a live farm-raised turkey in the U.S. is 32.3 pounds, down slightly from 2019's revised figure of 32.5 pounds.

Total Live Weight of Turkeys Produced, 1970-2019, with estimate for 2020

Compared to the decade of the 1970s, when the average farm-raised turkey tipped the scale at 18.7 pounds, that represents a 73% increase in the typical size of turkeys produced in the U.S., where their average weight has steadily risen over the last four decades.

That trend may be changing however, because smaller turkeys are in high demand as Americans downsize for 2020's Thanksgiving. With celebrations limited to immediate family members with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, American consumers have been bypassing larger birds in favor of smaller ones.

Data Sources

National Turkey Federation. Sourcebook. [PDF Document]. October 2013.

U.S. Department of Agriculture. National Agricultural Statistics Service. Poultry - Production and Value: 2019 Summary. [PDF Document]. April 2020.

U.S. Department of Agriculture. National Agricultural Statistics Service. Turkeys Raised. [Online Database]. Accessed 1 November 2020.

U.S. Department of Agriculture. Economic Research Service. Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook. (LDP-M-316). [PDF Document]. 16 October 2020.

Cooking Turkey With the Swedish Chef

A three-minute classic, with The Muppet Show's Swedish Chef and his uncle, Danny Kaye, preparing a turkey for Thanksgiving....

Of course, the all-time Thanksgiving comedy classic belongs to WKRP in Cincinnati's "Turkeys Away" episode. Here's one of the two clips that everyone who has ever seen the show remembers, from a series that has largely been lost to time because of copyright laws and music licensing fees.

If you must talk about anything political this Thanksgiving, try copyright laws. Free WKRP!

How Big Can A Turkey Get?

After answering "how big of a turkey you should get", let's tweak the question a bit and ask "how big can a turkey get?"!

Let's start answering that new question by finding out how big turkeys have already become. To find out, we've pulled 50 years of data on U.S. farm-raised turkeys from the National Turkey Federation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which includes finalized data from 1970 through 2018 and preliminary data from 2019.

In 2019, U.S. farms have raised an estimated population of 240 million turkeys, which if that figure holds, would be the fewest since 1987's 240.2 million.

Number of Turkeys Raised on U.S. Farms, 1970-2018, with Estimate for 2019*

Altogether, the live weight of all those U.S. farm-raised turkeys in 2019 totals 7.66 billion pounds, which would be an 0.8% increase over 2018's total and is 57% greater than 1987's total.

Total Live Weight of Turkeys Produced, 1970-2018, with Estimate for 2019*

That combination of data can only mean one thing: the size of a U.S. farm-raised turkey has grown considerably over time. The following chart shows how much, where we find the average live weight of a farm-raised turkey in 2019 is 31.9 pounds, which is 70% larger than the 18.7 pounds that the average farm-raised turkey tipped the scales at back during the stagflationary days of the 1970s.

Average Live Weight of U.S. Farm-Raised Turkeys, 1970-2018, with Estimate for 2019*

But it's also a significant increase over the 31.0 pounds the average farm-raised turkey weighed just a year ago. We think the reason for that might be attributable to an unintended consequence of the U.S.-China tariff war, where a key part of China's strategy has been to boycott purchases of U.S.-grown soybeans.

For U.S. turkey farmers, that has made higher quality soybean meal available to be fed to U.S. farm-raised turkeys at lower prices than they have been in recent years, which means that U.S. turkeys are reaching new records in how large they can grow.

As for how big a farm-raised turkey can get, we're afraid our chart doesn't provide enough information to tell, where if they were approaching a natural limit to their potential size, it would start taking on more of an S-shaped, logistic growth pattern, leveling out at a plateau with the passage of time.

But what if we assume that we're just at the halfway point for when that might happen though we don't see that in the data yet? At 31.9 pounds, 2019's average farm-raised turkey is 13.2 pounds heavier than the average farm-raised turkey of the 1970s, before U.S. turkey farmers began boosting their yield. Adding that margin onto the today's 31.9 pound average live weight suggests that another 40 years of increasing productivity could yield turkeys that regularly reach an average live weight of 45 pounds.

Is that number unreasonable? Several varieties of farm-raised turkeys, including Broad Breasted Bronze and Cornish Cross, have already produced individual birds that weighed over 50 pounds, so yes it is possible, though it would take many more years of productivity improvements in raising turkeys for U.S. farmers to achieve it.

There are crazier things afoot in the world today. Chinese hogs farmers have embarked on an effort to raise pigs that weigh as much as polar bears. That China needs to have such an effort can in part be traced in part to another unintended consequence of the U.S.-China tariff war.

Data Sources

National Turkey Federation. Sourcebook. [PDF Document]. October 2013.

U.S. Department of Agriculture. Poultry Production and Value, Final Estimates 2013-2017. [PDF Document]. June 2019.

U.S. Department of Agriculture. Turkeys Raised. [PDF Document]. 26 September 2019.

U.S. Department of Agriculture. Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook. [PDF Document]. 15 November 2019.