Nova Scotia

Turkey producers say they misjudged COVID Christmas demand

Steven Eadie, the chairman of Turkey Farmers of Nova Scotia, said he's receiving numerous calls from people having a tough time finding a bird.

'We didn't predict well enough that people would really want to celebrate Christmas,' says N.S. producer

The chairman of Turkey Farmers of Nova Scotia said producers across the country cut the number of birds they grew by 10 to 15 per cent. (Shutterstock)

Prior to the pandemic, it would be pretty typical to find hundreds of turkeys in a grocery store around Christmas time, priced as little as $1.15 a pound.

But the same can't be said this year.

Steven Eadie, the chairman of Turkey Farmers of Nova Scotia, said he's receiving numerous calls from people having a tough time finding a bird.

"It's very unusual. Normally we have lots out there because our system supply managers basically grow what's needed," said Eadie. "Unfortunately, COVID has thrown a monkey into the wrench, and it's one of these unpredictable things."

The issue, he said, is that many producers thought demand for turkeys would remain low this year as the pandemic dampened holiday plans. Many in the province, and across the country, cut the number of birds grown by 10 to 15 per cent.

"Probably, unfortunately, we didn't predict well enough that people would really want to celebrate Christmas. We were fearful that we didn't want to overproduce … people are more comfortable to have a good turkey meal, so therefore they're trying to buy more turkey."

Steven Eadie is the chairman of Turkey Farmers of Nova Scotia. (Stephanie Blanchet/Radio-Canada)

The industry is also losing revenue due to the closure of restaurants, which buy turkey for things like sandwiches and pies.

"We've been struggling where we've been hit harder than probably anything else out there agriculture-wise, meat-related, because turkey is probably the last thing on your mind when you go to the grocery store," he said.

Eadie said although turkeys are raised and processed in the province, most are sent to places like Ontario, while those in Nova Scotia stores are typically processed in other plants throughout the country. Nova Scotia produces more than seven million pounds of turkey per year. There are 20 turkey growers in the province and 521 in Canada.

But regardless of where in Canada the bird is coming from, Eadie said turkey availability is all about planning six or nine months ahead of time. Turkey farmers typically grow young turkeys or poults in the spring so they're ready to be sold in the fall.

Eadie said this is the first year they've received this many calls from people unable to find a turkey.

It takes time

Maegan MacKimmie, corporate communications manager for Turkey Farmers of Canada, told CBC in an email the turkey industry is experiencing less market supply than last year and the year previous.

"Production volume was increased over the summer, as the situation with the pandemic began to improve. It takes time for changes in demand to reach the market," MacKimmie said.

MacKimmie said the organization is confident people will still be able to get turkeys.

Susan Hamilton, owner and operator of Wild Pasture Farm, said she's heard from customers that turkey prices at large-scale grocers such as Sobeys and Loblaws have been higher than usual, but she disagrees.

"They're actually charging appropriately for turkey," said Hamilton. Consumers, she said, are used to buying turkeys on sale "for less than the cost that it actually takes to raise that bird, which is not really fair."

Hamilton raises free-range turkeys, and she typically charges anywhere from $4.75 to $6 a pound.

Turkey Farmers of Canada told CBC that increased feed prices have contributed to higher prices, something being experienced by all livestock producers.

Loblaw, Sobeys

Mark Boudreau, the director of corporate affairs for Loblaw Companies, which includes stores such as No Frills and Atlantic Superstore, said in an email it would be inaccurate to say prices are higher at Loblaw.

"On any given day, prices can fluctuate, and some retailers adjust their prices," he said. "We still have a lot of supply shipping this week and next of all varieties fresh and frozen. It is not fair to visit a few stores and draw conclusions on pricing when the price can vary day to day."

Boudreau said Loblaw anticipated an uptick in turkey demand this year following the numerous cancelled holiday events last year, so the company was able to prepare and procure enough.

Sarah Dawson, public affairs lead for Sobeys, said its stores Nova Scotia are not experiencing a turkey shortage.

However, Eadie said he's been receiving numerous calls from people stating they've had to look at multiple stores before being able to find a turkey. He suggests getting one sooner than later.

"You're going to look a little harder than they normally would."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Feleshia Chandler is a journalist based in Halifax. She loves helping people tell their stories and has interests in issues surrounding LGBTQ+ people as well as Black, Indigenous and people of colour. You can reach her at feleshia.chandler@cbc.ca.

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