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Jennie-O owner scoffs at turkey prediction from USDA amid bird flu crisis

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture is predicting that turkey production will increase by as much as 4 percent across the country this year.

Minnesota's biggest turkey producer disagrees.

Hormel Foods, the owner of the Jennie-O brand, has reacted with skepticism to the USDA's latest monthly outlook, which predicts that domestic turkey production will reache 5.979 billion pounds this year.

That would represent a 3.9 percent increase over 2014, but Austin-based Hormel says the outbreak of avian flu that is taking a major toll on Minnesota and other Midwest turkey producers will surely mean that figure cannot be realized.

"I am skeptical as to the industry's ability to hit that 3 percent to 4 percent gain number," CEO Jeff Ettinger said Wednesday, according to Reuters.

"I guess I have a hard time seeing how those numbers happen, if we are going to be short 20 percent in terms of at least turkeys coming into our system, and about 15 percent net of the meat we are going to buy," he added.

Farms owned by or which supply to Hormel are among those that have been affected by the H5N2 virus that has swept across the state and so far resulted in the death of almost 8 million birds – most of which are turkeys.

At the latest count from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, there are 88 farms affected by the virus, with most of the flocks on the farms either dying from the disease or being euthanized to prevent its spread.

The number of affected birds shot up this past week after it was revealed one of the farms affected was an egg-layer farm with 2 million chickens in south-central Minnesota, the Associated Press reports.

And despite the USDA's prediction for increased production, Reuters notes that farmers and some trade groups are already raising concerns that they will not have the time to raise enough turkeys for the Thanksgiving holiday.

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