Last Thanksgiving, my colleague Chris Cunnane wrote a holiday post titled Turkey Logistics: The Thanksgiving Supply Chain that discussed the aggregate demand fueled by America’s voracious appetite for turkey. As he stated in that article, about 730 million pounds of turkey is consumed by Americans over the Thanksgiving holiday, of which about 90 percent are frozen turkeys that are bred, slaughtered, and frozen year round. After reading Chris’ article, I wondered “where in the US are turkeys produced and how is production distributed across the US?” I had some free time this week to answer that question and to speculate on “turkey migration routes” across the US.
Thankfully the USDA publishes aggregate data on turkey production and consumption. In 2015, the USDA is expecting 5.57 billion pounds of turkey to be produced in the US. This is actually a slight reduction from last year, due in part to widespread bird flu that wiped out 8 million turkeys. About 10 percent of total production (537 million pounds) is expected to be exported. Meanwhile, imports are expected to be a paltry (or poultry) 21.9 million pounds. I developed a map of the major turkey producing states in the US.
As you can see, the major production states are mostly in the Mid-West, bordering the Mississippi and running east to the Mid-Atlantic. Most of these production states are rural and fairly distant from the major population centers across the country.
So how do the production levels compare to turkey consumption by state, and what routes do these turkeys take on their journey to our dining room tables? Unfortunately I could not find this information, so I decided to infer it. Production plus imports, less exports equals 5,055 million pounds of turkey. Given 86% conversion to retail, that comes out to 15 pounds per person in the US. The table to the right in the image above shows turkey consumption across the US, assuming consistent consumption per capita for all states.
Are all of the major turkey production states net producers, given the consumption estimates? It turns out that California and Pennsylvania appear to consume more than they produce, as their populations out strip their substantive production. The final map above shows the major turkey production states coded by net production category with likely holiday migration (distribution) patterns. So take a moment to remember your bird’s long journey before you take your first savory bite this Thanksgiving. And remember, if you don’t want a farm raised bird, you can always come to Massachusetts and tackle a wild one, as they are as common as squirrels in this region.