Turkey farmers prepare for different type of Thanksgiving

It’s been a rollercoaster of a year for Minnesota turkey producers trying to predict what the Thanksgiving meal will look like amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

A total of 450 family farmers raise approximately 44 million to 46 million turkeys annually, according to the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association.

"Talking to different farmers across the state of Minnesota, it’s kind of a mixed bag, there are some grocers that are looking for that smaller bird, maybe for a family of four or a gathering of six people," said Sarah Anderson, executive director of Minnesota Turkey Grower’s Association. "But you still need to plan for that larger bird contingency."

Anderson expects gatherings to be smaller during COVID, which means some Minnesotans will be cooking the turkey at their own homes instead of attending large family events.

"We’re looking forward really to this Thanksgiving because COVID has created more people spending time in the kitchen," Anderson said.

At Meadowlark Turkey Farm in Melrose, a third-generation family turkey producer, this year, like for many farmers, has been filled with challenges.

"It’s very rewarding, we get to feed people, that’s our mentality, especially on tough days, especially during this crazy season of COVID," said Ashley Klaphake, who raises turkeys with her husband on the family farm.

Klaphake said they have had to adjust how big some of the turkeys get due to a possible change in the market.

"The longer we have them, obviously, the bigger they will grow; we did have flocks leave sooner, which was OK," Klaphake said. "It kind of puts a damper on pounds that are produced and money that is made per pound for us farmers."

When it comes to buying the turkey this holiday, Anderson’s advice to cooks out there is to buy early.

"I don’t want to put a rush out there but I’m concerned that it might become the next toilet paper or any cleaning product out there that people are going to be rushing to get their turkey to make sure they can have that normalcy of a Thanksgiving dinner," Anderson said.