Turkey whole bird

Around Thanksgiving and the holiday season, a lot of people turn to turkey for meals and get-togethers. Beth Breeding, vice president of communications for the National Turkey Federation, says turkey’s appeal comes from a variety of sources.

“Part of it is certainly the nostalgia, the comfort,” she says. “People remember having it for Thanksgiving. It takes them back to a simpler time. It also has great taste.”

With the coronavirus pandemic, Breeding says there may be changes to Thanksgiving gatherings, or cancellations, but she says turkey is versatile and can work for gatherings of any size.

“I think that the Thanksgiving meal is going to look a little different with the number of people around the table,” she says. “But we’re happy that turkey can still be a part of the meal no matter the size.”

For farmers in the turkey industry, it has been a year with some uncertainty, but Breeding says the industry has largely handled the shifts in consumer demand.

“We’ve seen a lot of growth of turkey at the grocery store,” she says. “But we lost some in restaurants, stores, sporting venues. It’s been a year we’ve had to make some adjustments.”

Meanwhile, producers have kept doing what they do.

“The farmers out on the farms have been focused on doing their job, regardless of the pandemic. They’ve been very busy.”

Missouri produces 16.5 million turkeys annually, fifth in the nation, Breeding says. Iowa is 7th nationally, with 11.7 million turkeys. Illinois produces about 3 million turkeys each year.

While turkey is most associated with Thanksgiving, Breeding says turkey has a variety of nutritional benefits, which has helped make it popular during other parts of the year.

“Turkey is a lean protein,” she says. “It’s packed full of B vitamins and a lot of other nutrients you need for a balanced diet. It’s a big option for year-round eating. Absolutely turkey is popular year-round.”

Breeding says she enjoys getting to work with and for turkey farmers.

“They’re salt of the earth people,” she says.

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Ben Herrold is Missouri field editor, writing for Missouri Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.