Unsteady time for local Thanksgiving turkey trade

  • Turkeys in large open pens at the Diemand Farm on Friday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Turkeys in large open pens at The Diemand Farm on Friday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 11/23/2022 2:20:50 PM
Modified: 11/23/2022 2:20:39 PM

Two and a half years after the COVID-19 pandemic introduced much of the world to social distancing, American families have returned to having larger Thanksgiving gatherings. But crippling inflation and Avian influenza cases are the newest issues trickling down to farmers and consumers this holiday season.

Bird flu viruses have been found in U.S. commercial and backyard poultry in at least 44 states and Canada since the viruses were first detected in Indiana on Feb. 8, leading to the culling of more than 50 million birds from Maine to Oregon and thousands more in Canada as of early November, according to reports. This only worsened supply chain issues for Diemand Farm, this area’s most prominent turkey farm, which worked with a close network of peers to find ways to buy poults, or baby turkeys.

“Let’s just say I had a few sleepless nights,” said Anne Diemand Bucci, who co-owns the Wendell farm with siblings Peter and Faith and daughter Tessa White-Diemand.

She said she typically gets poults from a Quebec hatchery but bird flu problems resulted in much lower numbers from the French-speaking province. Diemand Bucci said the hatchery was unable to fill three batches totaling 2,000 turkeys and her family’s business worked with fellow farmers to find a hatchery in West Virginia, but that facility was not immune to issues. Diemand Bucci explained the initial plan was to receive poults on Aug. 14, but that date got pushed back to Sept. 1 for reasons outside of Diemand Farm’s control.

“We wanted them in July or August,” she said. “There’s a lot of growth that happens in those six weeks.”

Diemand Bucci said customers this year have typically wanted 11- to 20-pound gobblers but most have had to settle for 9- to 10-pounders.

“Most of our customers are just wonderful,” she said. “They know that we are just a small family farm and do the best we can.”

She mentioned 2,000 of the farm’s 3,300 harvested Thanksgiving turkeys came from Quebec this year. A Diemand Farm turkey costs $4.99 per pound. Four of the farm’s turkeys reached 35 pounds, Diemand Bucci said, costing $174.65.

Diane Rollins, who has co-owned D&R Farm in Hampden for 10 years with her husband, Robert, said her turkeys are back to pre-pandemic sizes. She said her farm’s Thanksgiving birds this year ran $5 per pound and she has sold out.

“We sold out back in the beginning of November,” she recalled.

Rollins said her largest turkey this year weighed 27 pounds — enough to feed 15 to 20 people.

Little Creek Farm, started in New Salem by Joshua Mason and his family in December 2019, said his small business sold 62 turkeys this season, down from 91 last year. He chalked this up to the economy and the high price of grain. He sold his birds for $4.85 per pound.

“We’re almost $5 a pound for a turkey, and some people are just not going to pay it,” Mason said. “We raised fewer, anticipating that.”

He said his family orders poults from hatcheries with the best prices. 

“We have some repeat customers, which is great. We have some new customers. We’re sold out now,” Mason said. “We’ll do it again. We’re not going to stop doing it.”

Jason Deane, who co-owns Foster’s Supermarket in Greenfield with his brother, Matthew, said it seems turkey sizes are “right in the middle” between where they were prior to the pandemic and the reduced weights of 2020 and 2021. But he also said inflation has taken a toll on customers’ purchasing power.

“(Turkeys) are, as everyone has heard, more expensive and whatnot, but I think everybody still wants to have a turkey for Thanksgiving, so we’re selling them,” he said. “But this is what we wait for every year, right? Turkey and football.”

Deane mentioned customers are also buying other Thanksgiving staples such as squashes, potatoes, onions and “all the little things your mother used to make you eat but now you like.”

Pages and pages filled with recipes for Thanksgiving dishes are available on the supermarket’s website, at bit.ly/3gqUaZM.

Bill Storozuk, who manages the meat department at Foster’s, said the store carries Diemand Farm turkeys as well as birds from Best Yet, Butterball, Shady Brook Farms and Plainville Farms. He said prices vary from $2 per pound to $5.19 per pound. Kyle Broderick, the meat department manager at Food City, said turkey sales are all right but “nothing spectacular.” He said he carries Best Yet and Butterball frozen birds as well as fresh turkeys from Butterball and Shady Brook Farms.

Broderick said he has received many orders this year for 20-pound turkeys, in contrast to the 10- to 14-pounders of 2020 and 2021. He also said he has been selling much more prime rib than usual.

Butterball’s Turkey Talk-Line (1-800-288-8372 by phone or 844-877-3456 by text) is up and running, with professional turkey experts available to answer any turkey cooking questions.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-930-4120.

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