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Turkey production down just in time for the holidays

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Americans are expected to eat about 46 million turkeys for Thanksgiving this year, but the number of birds being raised on farms in the U.S. is the lowest it's been in nearly 30 years.

While the supply is going down, the wholesale price that grocers are paying is at an all-time high.

Despite those factors, the price shoppers will pay for their Thanksgiving bird at the grocery store probably won't be much different from last year, according to the Associated Press.

The number of turkeys produced this year is estimated at 235 million, which is the lowest since 1986, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department. Fewer birds means higher wholesale prices, which were up 16 percent from a year before.

Grocery stores will pay that higher price, but probably won't pass it along to their customers; they typically sell turkeys at a discount as a "loss leader," to attract more shoppers who will then spend more on other items, the Associated Press notes.

Why the lower turkey numbers? Farmers are still recovering from the drought of 2012 which led to record high costs for feed. They reduced their flocks to deal with the higher costs. Feed accounts for about two-thirds of the cost of raising turkeys, according to Bloomberg News.

"Last year was a bloodbath. It was bad," John Zimmerman, a farmer in Northfield, Minnesota, who produces about 300,000 turkeys a year, told the Associated Press. He said he reduced the number of birds the past few years because of higher costs for feed and transportation.

Those same issues affected beef and pork producers as well, and prices for many kinds of meat are up 17 percent this year, according to the AP.

Turkey farmers will most likely rebuild their flocks in the next year or so, in part because this year's record corn harvest is lowering the price of feed. And it only takes three to five months to raise a turkey to market size, says Bloomberg.

Turkey facts and figures

– Americans consumed more than 210 turkeys in 2012; 46 million on Thanksgiving, 22 million at Christmas and 19 million around Easter, according to Bloomberg.

– Minnesota is the No. 1 turkey-producing state in the U.S. There are 450 farmers who are raising about 46 million birds in 2014, according to the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association.

– Farmers in Kandiyohi County raise the most turkeys in Minnesota.

– Minnesota is home to three turkey processing companies – Jennie-O Turkey Store, Turkey Valley Farms and Northern Pride Cooperative. They employ nearly 8,000 people.

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