A Disrupted Thanksgiving Leaves the Turkey Business Guessing

The calculations are tricky. Contracts to buy the baby turkeys called poults are often written a year in advance, and growing those poults to the proper size for the market takes months. Even if farmers wanted to raise smaller turkeys, it’s not that easy. Genetics, coupled with economically driven feed formulas, produce birds that mature at a predetermined size in a set amount of time.

“It’s not an industry in which you can quickly pivot,” said John Peterson, whose family has owned the 140-acre Ferndale Market in Cannon Falls, Minn., for 80 years. “For us to have any meaningful impact on changing anything for Thanksgiving, those decisions had to be made in March or April.”

Mr. Peterson is president of the turkey research and promotion council for Minnesota, the nation’s top turkey-producing state. About a quarter of the 160,000 turkeys he will grow this year will be sold for the

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