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Thanksgiving Will Look Different This Year, But Small Turkey Farmers Say They'll Be OK

Turkeys being raised at Buttonwood Farm in California, Missouri, a free range farming facility
Turkeys being raised at Buttonwood Farm in California, Missouri, a free range farming facility

Many families are heeding the advice of health officials and inviting fewer people to Thanksgiving dinner, which has hurt turkey sales, especially for national producers.

But small organic and free-range turkey farmers in Missouri may be faring better because of a loyal customer base that’s sticking closer to home than usual over pandemic concerns.

Todd Geisert of Geisert Farms in Washington, Missouri, has seen a slight increase in turkey orders this year.

Geisert said his customers are asking for smaller birds of about 12 pounds, and he won’t be able to meet all of those requests.

“Most of them are going to be in that 15-, 16-, 17-pound range. It makes it where they are going to have a little bit more leftovers,” Geisert said. “But most people who are looking for a premium product are going to understand that and don’t mind some leftovers.”

Specialty turkeys can cost as much as $3 more a pound, and that’s before many grocery stores offer big discounts if shoppers buy all the trimmings and other items. The customer base for organic and free-range turkeys is loyal and not as motivated by price as most shoppers in grocery stores, said Matt Tiefenbrun of Buttonwood Farms in California, Missouri.

He does expect his customers to do things differently this year, but that may help his sales.

“There will be fewer gatherings and smaller gatherings,” Tiefenbrun said. “But I do think there are going to be more people at home. There’s not going to be as many people traveling, at least with the group that is eating our stuff.”

Tiefenbrun said his orders look to be about the same this year as last year, with a shift to smaller birds and more turkey breasts.

Unlike large producers and grocery stores that typically place orders in January, some small farmers were able to predict the change in demand for Thanksgiving birds earlier this year.

That doesn’t include Tiefenbrun, who said the rest of his farming business was so busy that he didn’t really think about the pandemic’s effect on Thanksgiving demand when he ordered turkey chicks in May.

“You’d think I’d be that smart, but everything was just crazy that time of year. Things were just going wild. I was trying to keep our chicken sales going, and our egg sales. And I didn’t even really think twice. I just ordered what we usually do and say I guess we’ll figure it out then,” Tiefenbrun said.

Even with that misstep, Tiefenbrun said the worst-case scenario is that he might have extra ground turkey to sell for a few months. Overall, he expects his Thanksgiving sales to be “normal to slightly better.”

Meanwhile, large turkey producers and sellers are trying to mitigate the pandemic’s effects with a marketing campaign. The National Turkey Federation is advising consumers to “go big” and stock up on a hot post-Thanksgiving commodity: leftovers.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @JonathanAhl

Copyright 2021 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Jonathan Ahl joined Iowa Public Radio as News Director in July 2008. He leads the news and talk show teams in field reporting, feature reporting, audio documentaries, and talk show content. With more than 17 years in public media, Jonathan is a nationally award-winning reporter that has worked at public radio stations in Macomb, Springfield and Peoria, IL. He served WCBU-FM in Peoria as news director before coming to Iowa. He also served as a part-time instructor at Bradley University teaching journalism and writing courses. Jonathan is currently serving a second term as president of PRNDI ââ