COLUMBIA, Mo. – Turkey, the centerpiece of most Thanksgiving dinners, may pinch the family food budget a little bit this year.

Avian influenza has wiped out millions of turkeys this year, leaving the industry scrambling to restock flocks.

“Minnesota took the biggest hit, with the estimates somewhere near 50 million birds total. About 85 percent of these were layers, the birds that produce eggs,” said Jeff Firman, poultry specialist for University of Missouri Extension. “Minnesota is the largest producer of turkeys in the country and so the turkey industry took significant losses.”

The loss of so many birds at one time could affect availability.

“Birds are scheduled for maybe months and sometimes years in advance,” Firman said. “All of that takes a bit of time to upscale, to get back on track.”

“Because of avian influenza, overall turkey production is down this year. Supplies are likely to be tight,” said Ron Plain, MU Extension agricultural economist.

While the March outbreak of avian flu seems to be under control, there is still the fall/winter migration to contend with, Firman said. Migratory ducks and geese carry avian influenza. These birds don’t get sick from the disease, but they can spread the virus to domesticated birds.

“So far we haven’t seen any real new cases,” he said. “So, I like to think we’re going to make it through the fall OK, but it’s a little bit early to say that.”

What will the Thanksgiving turkey cost this year? The U.S. Department of Agriculture says the price for the gobbler in Missouri will range from $0.69 to $1.49 per pound. But this is one of those times when shopping around can really pay off because many grocers will discount turkeys for the holiday.

“A lot of the stores use these as loss leaders, and so you get a relatively cheap turkey to get you in the door,” Firman said.

As for availability, this might be a good year to get your turkey early.

“My concern is that they may run out of turkey before I get mine bought,” Plain says. “I wouldn’t postpone my purchase for very long.”

For more information, see the MU Extension guide “Basics of Bird Flu: Avian Influenza” (G8909), available for download at

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