Unexpectedly Intriguing!
November 24, 2008

We have one true annual tradition here at Political Calculations, and that's to celebrate Thanksgiving week in the U.S. by digging into the numbers behind the U.S. turkey-industrial complex!

We'll begin this year by taking a census of turkeys produced in the U.S. in the previous year (obviously, we can't do that for the current year, for the simple reason that the current year isn't over yet!). The chart below provides the number of turkeys produced in each year beginning in 1989:

Number of Turkeys Produced in the US, 1989-2007

The National Turkey Federation confirms that the number of turkeys produced in the U.S. in 2007 is 271,685,000, which represents a rebound to the level of turkeys produced by the nation's turkey farmers in the early 2000s.

Collectively, these turkeys weighed some 7.869 billion pounds while they were alive, which is trimmed to the 5.958 billion pounds they collectively weight in the Ready to Cook (RTC) Inspected weight in which Americans find them for sale in their local grocery stores! The following chart shows what that means on a per bird basis:

Average Weight of Live and RTC-Inspected Turkeys Produced in the US, 1989-2007

In 2007, the average weight of a live turkey produced by the U.S. turkey industry was 28.96 pounds. The weight of the average Ready-To-Cook turkey delivered to U.S. grocery stores was 21.93 pounds.

Doing the math, we find that compared to the kinds of turkeys produced in 1989, the earliest year for which we have data, 2007's live turkeys are 38.25% larger. When we calculate the compound annual growth rate of live turkeys, we find that the average live turkey is increasing in weight at an average annualized rate of 1.8% per year!

Of course, all those turkeys have a cost! Fortunately for all Americans, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks the price per pound of whole, frozen turkey on a monthly basis. Here's their chart showing this data for each year from 2004 through 2007:

BLS Average Price per Pound of Whole, Frozen Turkey in U.S. Cities, 2004-2007

Compared to recent years, 2007 was interesting in that the price of a pound of turkey meat rose sharply from April through June, then remained very high into October of last year. This increase largely corresponds to the increase in government subsidies for ethanol producers during that period, which reduced the supply of available feed corn, making it more expensive, which in turn, made producing turkeys themselves more expensive!

We see though that after October, the price per pound of whole, frozen turkeys dropped to typical levels. We also confirm that the very best time of the year to buy whole, frozen turkeys is the month of December.


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