Pandemic, climate change to blame for a pricey turkey dinner this year

·3 min read
Turkey farmers and local retailers say they can't guarantee you'll get a good price on a turkey this Christmas.  (K2 PhotoStudio / Shutterstock - image credit)
Turkey farmers and local retailers say they can't guarantee you'll get a good price on a turkey this Christmas. (K2 PhotoStudio / Shutterstock - image credit)

Ontario farmers are urging consumers to keep buying turkey, even after the holiday season.

They've faced a 20 to 25 per cent rise in the cost of crops and feed this year, coupled with supply chain disruptions and labour shortages.

"Profits in turkey farming were definitely down 30 per cent last year," said Brian Ricker, a spokesperson for Turkey Farmers of Ontario. "It was really tough."

The industry is one of many seeing a direct fallout from both the pandemic and climate change. Ricker said the price of corn, soybeans and wheat shot up about a year ago, citing the ongoing drought in Western Canada.

Sales for turkey initially dropped during the first lockdown, when students and workers stopped consuming deli meats as much as they usually would.

Poultry processors then experienced higher than usual storage costs as labour declined due to the pandemic. On top of that, they were forced to spend extra on renovating plants to create socially-distanced work stations.

Ricker said farmers moved to cut 10 per cent of price costs for processors to help them get through the year.

All this has led to consumers seeing the price for the traditional Christmas bird rise up to 30 per cent, and retailers sometimes unable to meet demand.

The typical price for turkey is $2 a kilogram. It's now around $2.25 per kilogram.

"It's been a rollercoaster," said Sean Maguire, operations and sales manager for Hayter's Farm, a 70-year-old family-owned operation located west of London, Ont.

"Just demand spiking with shutdowns and re-openings and disruptions to the food service, that's really driven a lot of our challenge."

Retailers could be scrambling before Christmas

Maguire said he's noticed major retailers take a hit from the situation. Reduced inventories mean fewer "door-crasher" types of sales, as well as the usual discounts.

For smaller retailers, it's hard to guarantee that customers will get what they want.

"I think the real test is [the week before Christmas]," said Chris Unger, owner and operator of Unger's Market.

"We're expecting our first deliveries of turkeys specifically [the week before], Friday and then the rest of them will follow Monday through Wednesday. So hopefully we get what we've got ordered. And if not, then we're really going to be scrambling and making suggestions or helping customers find what they want, maybe from a different source where they can get them, because ultimately the business we're in is customer service-focus," he said.

It's difficult to forecast the future, given the latest uncertain developments in the COVID-19 pandemic. Turkey farmers are cautious when it comes to estimating next year's growth.

Ricker said things seem to be going in the right direction now that margins are beginning to return to normal, thanks to a widespread love for Christmas dinner.

"The only thing I'd like to add is keep eating turkey all year long," said Ricker.

"We supply different parts of turkeys in smaller portions that are available all year long, and that's what we need consumers to do down the road."

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