Turkey is a big business in North Carolina and is the 2nd largest producer in the US

If you’re planning a turkey as the centerpiece of your Thanksgiving dinner, chances are it’s an NC-raised bird. This is the reason.

When you hear the words chocolate and chip, turkey may not be the first food that comes to mind.

But last November, two turkeys named Chocolate and Chip from Monroe, NC, earned the presidential seal of approval to live past Thanksgiving.

“The votes are in, counted and verified, no ballot papers, no fowling. “The only red tide this season is if the German shepherd knocks over his cranberry soup,” President Joe Biden said at the traditional pardon ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House on November 21, 2022.

The two birds, which weighed in at 46 and 47 pounds, are now living the high life as education ambassadors at NC State University, which seems only fitting since the school is the Tar Heel State’s premier agricultural teaching college and turkey production is one. A large part of the largest industry in North Carolina.

Think North Carolina farming and hogs, and at least as commonly tobacco and cotton come to mind. But poultry, including turkeys, is big business in the state.

According to the NC Poultry Federation, poultry is the No. 1 agricultural industry in the state, creating nearly 148,000 jobs and having an economic impact of nearly $40 billion. Chickens and turkeys account for 42 percent of North Carolina’s farm income and support more than 5,700 farm families.

Turkeys are a particularly attractive train for the state, with North Carolina ranking second nationally in turkey production. According to the National Turkey Federation, the top turkey-producing states are Minnesota, North Carolina, Arkansas, Indiana, Missouri, Virginia, Iowa and California.

State Veterinarian Dr. Mike Martin said, “It’s a very important industry for North Carolina, one that we participate in all parts of the market and work very closely with the industry to protect and develop.”

That’s a lot of birds.

Although turkeys have been raised in North Carolina since colonial times, the NCA Department of Agriculture only began tracking turkey production in 1929.

In the year From a low of 198,000 birds in the early 1930s, growing domestic and international demand fueled an increase in turkey production, and the industry flourished over the decades.

According to state statistics, North Carolina will produce 30 million turkeys by 2021, nearly 14% of the nation’s total and nearly $960 million in total income for farmers. That’s up from $610 million in 2018.

North Carolina was the nation’s top turkey-producing state until it was overtaken by Minnesota in the early 1980s.

Martin said the state’s mostly tropical climate, abundant land and labor, and easy access to forage crops like corn and soybeans helped the industry expand. The growth has led many major poultry producers to headquarter or set up major operations in the state. That list includes the home of Rayford Farms in Rose Hill, Duplin County. Butterball in Garner, Wake County; and Prestage Foods in St. Pauls, Robeson County. Purdue Farms and Tyson Foods also have major operations in the state.

‘We are very active’.

The turkey market, like chicken and hog production, has helped the United States become a leader in livestock production and lower costs for consumers.

But that big product growth didn’t come without challenges. One of the biggest concerns for farmers is that too many birds live in close proximity and how it facilitates the spread of disease.

The latest outbreak to threaten the industry is pathogenic avian influenza, which has destroyed more than 61 million chickens and turkeys in 47 states since 2022 to prevent the disease from spreading to other flocks. Outbreaks in recent weeks have included farms in South Dakota, Minnesota and Utah. While the virus can be deadly to domestic and wild birds, the biggest threat to scientists is if bird flu mutates and infects other mammals – including humans.

NC wild turkey recovery A reason to be thankful

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), North Carolina farmers are in luck. A handful of outbreaks were reported in 2022 and two smaller cases in Rowan County in 2023 — although infected migratory wild birds are still possible. Traveling in the state.

Martin said since the Covid-19 outbreak, protecting workers has become as important as protecting animals, and North Carolina farmers have had strict biosecurity measures in place. That continued as the recent “bird flu” epidemic swept the world and decimated flocks, and the main strategy was to prevent waste from infected wild birds from getting on workers or farm equipment into poultry farms.

Everyone is very vigilant because hope is not a strategy or a plan. As safe as possible,” said Martin.

Flu-related losses affect poultry production, and therefore prices. But even with inflation at some of the highest levels in decades, Thanksgiving dinner in 2023 isn’t likely to make your money grow any further. According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, it will be 4.5% cheaper than this year’s record price of $64.05 for a 10-day turkey dinner.

The main reason is the low price of the large bird, with the price of a 16-pound turkey down 5.6% from a year ago due to supply constraints as farmers raise more birds this year, worried about another wave of bird flu. When this failed, many more turkeys were put on the market. But turkey prices are still 25% higher in 2019 than they were before the pandemic, the Fed says.

Walk on the wild side

Most of the nearly 47 million turkeys Americans eat on Thanksgiving Day come from birds raised in large, environmentally controlled barns, but there are other sources of turkey on the table.

After a vigorous reintroduction campaign began in the 1950s, it was nearly wiped out in the last century. During the 1970s, North Carolina’s wild turkey population grew from a few thousand birds to an estimated 270,000. Tar Heel State today.

North Carolina wildlife officials announced in June that the state’s five-week wild turkey season had a record harvest of 24,089 — the highest ever recorded. The highest set in 2020 was 23,341.

Wild fowl flavor is said by many to be stronger than domestic turkey. Those wild turkeys, though smaller than their domestically raised cousins, come to the table with no medical enhancements and are considered by some as a supplement, relying on natural food sources.

Pasture-raised, or free-range, birds raised on small, often well-stocked farms are popular with some consumers for many of the same reasons.

Warming up Climate change could threaten NC’s wild turkey population. Here’s how.

While all animals, including poultry, are safe to eat if they are properly handled and prepared, Martin said, uncontrolled breeding of animals increases the risk of diseases such as bird flu and other challenges, such as predators. face to face. He said there is a lot of misinformation about how commercial birds are bred, such as the use of additives, hormones (none are used) and antibiotics (highly regulated).

“There are very strict federal rules about what can and can’t be done, and it’s all about making sure this is a safe product for people to eat,” he said. We try to provide the best information we can, but people need to do their own homework and get their information from multiple sources.

“But at the end of the day, this is a great, healthy product that’s safe to eat if prepared properly, and I hope everyone tries a North Carolina turkey, no matter how it’s raised, this Thanksgiving.”

Spoken Turkish (2021 statistics)

  • Number of turkeys produced in NC: 30 million
  • Farm income from NC Turkey: $960 million
  • Top 5 NC Counties for Turkey Production: Sampson (7.15 million birds), Wayne, Union, Duplin, Onslow

Sources: NC Dept. of Ag.; USDA

Correspondent Gareth McGrath can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @GarethMcGrathSN. This story was produced with funding from the 1Earth Fund and the Prentice Foundation. USA TODAY Network retains full editorial control of the work.

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