A swarm of fully grown tom turkeys crowded around Kim Gorans' feet Tuesday morning for their final Thanksgiving dance. The 42-pounders were scheduled to be shipped out this week for processing.
Every year Gorans Brothers Inc., located in the Svea-Blomkest area, produces 44 million pounds of turkeys that is processed at Jennie-O Turkey Store in Willmar.
The second-generation, family-owned operation is part of the massive web of farmers who keep Minnesota ranked No. 1 in the nation for turkey production and Kandiyohi County ranked as the top turkey-producing county in the state.
Although Thanksgiving is a day when turkeys are celebrated and a golden, cooked-to-perfection whole bird takes center stage on the dinner table, it's the everyday meals of turkey breasts, turkey hotdogs and deli sandwiches that have created a broad economic base for the turkey industry.
Despite the growth in consumption of turkey, high feed and fuel prices have made it a tough year to be raising turkeys.
As the current president of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association, Gorans sees the financial crunch on the whole industry, as well as his family's farm.
"This last year has been challenging," he said. "The turkey industry has been on the negative side."
With corn and soybean prices "hitting historic levels" this summer, gas prices doubling and an overproduction of turkeys, Gorans said some processing facilities in other states have cut back or closed down and growers have been pinched. When input costs "get so wild like that," it's tough for growers, said Gorans, who may end up selling turkeys for less than the cost it took to raise them.
Growers and processors are making financial adjustments with the hopes that the crunch "doesn't drag on too long," he said.
A rebound will depend on how much turkey is bought and consumed this year, and with a surplus in the market, turkey could be a good buying opportunity for consumers.
According to Gorans, grocery stores are buying turkeys for 5 to 10 cents a pound less than it costs to grow and process them. During the week of Thanksgiving, retailers like to use turkey as a "loss leader" -- a product sold at low cost to entice customers into the store where they will presumably buy other goods. Consumers can buy a turkey for around 77 cents a pound at some stores -- well below the cost of production.
"It's one of these years when you should probably buy one and then buy another one and stick it in the freezer because it's a pretty good value for the cost," Gorans said.
With the tight economic times for consumers and "limited food dollars," the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association is giving away 16,000 pounds of turkey this year through Hunger Solutions Minnesota -- enough to feed 20,000 people.
The turkey will be distributed to food shelves and food banks in Willmar, Faribault, Melrose, Thief River Falls, Frazee, Perham and Buffalo.
Since beginning the program in 2001, the association has donated 136,000 pounds of turkey to various areas of the state.
Looking to the future for the turkey industry, Gorans is hopeful that a new University of Minnesota poultry research center will be built in Willmar. Architectural plans for the facility are under way. A site for the center hasn't been officially named, but University officials have identified Willmar as a likely location.
The University's research center, currently located at the UMORE Park in Rosemount, needs to be moved because of development pressures and because the facility is sitting on top of a vast gravel mine, Gorans said.
If the new research center is built here, Gorans said it would be located in the heart of Minnesota's turkey industry where large hatcheries, processors, growers and equipment supplies are located, and where a new University of Minnesota bioscience laboratory will be built.
"It makes sense to put the research facility where the industry is," Gorans said.
He said technology such as webcams and equipment that will allow monitoring of air exchange, temperature and delivery of feed to turkeys in barns would be used to link the new center in Willmar to researchers at the University campus in St. Paul. Plans may include construction of a model turkey barn that would remain in the metro area that can be used by University ag students and for media events.