RICHMOND — American turkey production may be heading for another downturn, but Virginia turkey producers are poised to stay ahead of national trends.
The National Agricultural Statistics Service reported in September that Virginia farmers were expected to raise 16.3 million turkeys in 2020, an increase from 16 million in 2019.
By contrast, the number of turkeys raised nationally is forecast to decrease to 222 million in 2020, dropping from last year’s 229 million.
National production last increased in 2017, when U.S. farmers raised 254.2 million birds.
“Virginia is the original turkey production state, and our farmers continue to be major producers in the U.S. despite shifting market trends,” said Tony Banks, senior assistant director of agriculture, development and innovation for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “Local consumers can count on Virginia-raised turkeys to be fresh and readily available throughout the year.”
According to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, turkeys are commercially raised on 448 Virginia farms, most of which are located in the Shenandoah Valley and the northern Piedmont.
Virginia ranked sixth nationally in turkey production in 2019, and while pound production dropped slightly, cash receipts rose from $231 million in 2018 to $258 million last year.
Hobey Bauhan, president of the Virginia Poultry Federation, credited the increased value to industry advancements that have allowed consumers to purchase smaller birds, turkey parts and processed meats.
“There was a time when turkey was just a holiday treat at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, and now the industry has developed such that people can enjoy nutritious turkey products in numerous ways,” he said. “We’re far beyond that time, though turkeys are still at the center of most Thanksgiving tables.”
Though many holiday celebrations are likely to be scaled down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bauhan noted local farmers have produced “a bounty” of turkey products to accommodate gatherings of any size.
“We’re still very excited about the Thanksgiving holiday that’s upcoming, knowing that most Americans are going to be enjoying the bounty that our industry produces,” he said.