Just a few weeks ago, economists with the American Farm Bureau Federation warned that Americans should brace themselves for higher turkey prices this year heading into the holidays, blaming inflation and an outbreak of avian flu. Now, more recent numbers are in, and that dour outlook for the Thanksgiving dinner table hasn't changed much. According to USDA data from Oct. 14 cited by CNBC, the price per pound of an 8- to 16-pound bird currently hovers at about $1.99. Last year around this time, that number was $1.15—translating to a 73% increase in 2022. The New York Times notes the turkey supply has been struggling for some time, starting in 2019, when producers started to slow down on raising turkeys after prices fell.
Then came the pandemic, supply-chain issues, and inflation, which has affected the price of feed, fuel, and labor for turkey farmers. Meanwhile, what the Times calls "a particularly persistent and contagious strain" of avian flu has affected nearly 48 million birds in more than 40 states this year, killing upward of 7 million turkeys, or almost 4% of the nation's total. What exacerbated the issue during this year's avian flu bout—the likes of which hasn't been seen at this level since 2015—is that instead of striking as it usually does in the cooler spring, when migration is peaking, it stretched into the summer months, which is when farmers raise their flocks for the holidays.
"It's certainly occurring at a terrible time," a commodities strategist tells CNBC. Experts say there's a chance suppliers could bolster markets' turkey supply at the last minute, but consumers shouldn't hold their breath on that. Fresh turkeys at reasonable prices will be hardest to find come November, and restaurants that usually serve turkey with their holiday offerings are warning customers now that might not happen. None of this necessarily means you'll be completely out of luck as you start picking up ingredients for your Thanksgiving repast. "They'll find a turkey of some kind. It just might not be that nice 10-pounder," an exec with the price reporting agency Urner Barry tells the Times of consumers' prospects. "It's essentially a 'you're going to take what you get and feel good about it' situation." (Read more turkeys stories.)