Having covered the inflating cost of a Thanksgiving turkey in 2022, we're turning our attention to something very different: the shrinking size of U.S. farm-raised turkeys in 2022.
That became a cause of concern for American consumers after the U.S. government warned that big turkeys would be scarce in 2022. Here's Axios' executive summary:
The U.S. government is warning of a big shortage of big birds this Thanksgiving.
Why it matters: Because of this year's avian flu outbreaks, finding 20-pound turkeys in some regions of the country could be challenging, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said in a call with reporters on Tuesday.
The bird flu has killed more than 8 million turkeys, according to CDC data.
What they're saying: "Some of the turkeys that are being raised right now for Thanksgiving may not have the full amount of time to get to 20 pounds," Vilsack said on the call, which was about the administration's effort to reduce meat and poultry prices in the long-term.
We've seen this show before, since avian flu was also behind 2015's turkey shortage. But Axios' article doesn't answer the direct question it raises. How much smaller are U.S. farm-raised turkeys in 2022?
To find out we started with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's estimate of the total "Ready-To-Cook" (RTC) weight of turkeys that will brought to market during 2022. That figure is 5.214 billion pounds.
Looking at the last 10 years worth of data, we determined the RTC weight of turkeys averaged 79.1% of the live weight of U.S. farm-raised turkeys. Dividing the total RTC weight by this percentage gives us an estimated total live weight for farm-raised turkeys of 6.592 billion pounds. If we broaden our analysis to look at the range of RTC-to-Live weight percentages over the last 10 years, we find it has fallen between 77.46% (2021) and 79.94% (2015). Doing the same math with these figures gives us a potential range of 6.522 to 6.731 billion pounds for the live weight estimate. The higher the percentage, the smaller the estimated live weight.
All we need to know now is the estimated population of turkeys on U.S. farms. For 2022, that preliminary estimate is 212 million turkeys. That figure is two percent below 2021's final count of 216.5 million turkeys.
We can now estimate the average live weight of a U.S. farm raised turkey. Dividing the total live weight of all turkeys by their population in 2022 tells us that figure is 31.1 pounds (with a potential range between 30.8 and 31.8 pounds based on the range of total live weights). The following chart shows how that fits with all the data reported since 1970.
If the USDA's estimates hold, 2022 has seen the largest year-over-year reduction in the average weight of turkeys in U.S. history. Talk about turkey shrinkflation!
U.S. Department of Agriculture. Economic Research Service. Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook. (LDP-M-339). [Excel Spreadsheet]. 16 September 2022.
U.S. Department of Agriculture. National Agricultural Statistics Service. Turkeys Raised. [PDF Document]. 23 September 2022.