You don’t need any more reasons to love turkey beyond that it’s delicious.  Minnesotans may take an extra point of pride when they tuck into their dinners this Thanksgiving, however, because with 46 million birds per year Minnesota is the country’s top turkey producer.  I spoke with Steve Olson, executive director of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association, to understand why Minnesota holds that distinction.“There are four reasons why Minnesota is number one in the turkey business,” explained Steve.  “The first is because our state has so many long-standing family farms.  Their experience and pride in what they do accumulate with every generation.  One of my employees just left to return to work on her family’s farm — the sixth generation in her family to do so.”

“The second is that Minnesota is close to feed producers.  Between two thirds to three quarters of the cost of raising a turkey is feed, so operating in a grain growing state surrounded by grain growing states gives Minnesotan farmers a huge competitive advantage on shipping costs.  Minnesota turkey farms rely on the crops from about 1,800 corn and soybean farms.”

“The third is that we have a great balance of production and processing.  In addition to all of our turkey farms, we have three processing companies in Minnesota: Jennie-O Turkey Store, Turkey Valley Farms, and Northern Pride, Inc., which have facilities throughout the state.  They give farmers a lot of options when it comes time to process their birds, and it means they don’t have to travel relatively far.”

“Finally, we have a strong infrastructure and great research programs thanks to the Minnesota Board of Animal Health and the University of Minnesota.  The school has really helped the industry as a whole thanks to their work improving ventilation, nutrition, and the methods we use to prevent disease.”

“Our climate gives Minnesota another distinct advantage in raising turkey.  Turkeys generate a lot of heat on their own.  Because it’s cool here, farmers don’t have to spend as much money on air conditioning as they would farther down south.”

So how does Minnesota’s turkey industry become even stronger?  “We owe a lot of our success to our country’s celebration of Thanksgiving, which is inseparable from enjoying turkey,” said Steve.  “We’re additionally seeing the public perception of turkey moving away from a big roast you have to spend hours preparing to more convenient foods.  Deli meats, tenderloins for the grill, and meat sticks for snacking are making turkey even more marketable.  We’re enjoying success promoting turkey thanks to its low fat, high protein, and versatility.  The average American now eats 17 pounds of turkey every year, a record high.”

“The practice of raising turkey has improved dramatically over the past few decades,” said Steve.  “Whereas seventy years ago a turkey would weigh 21 pounds after 21 weeks, now it will weigh 45 pounds in the same amount of time.  Modern turkey farming only requires half the feed that it used to, which vastly reduces our industry’s carbon footprint.  We owe that improvement to a number of factors including breeding, our studies in nutrition, and raising birds indoors where they’re safe from predators and the elements.  We’re always looking for ways to improve our methods and keep Minnesota at the top of its game!”


By David Scheller