Turkeys in Virginia: fewer, fatter, pricier

Virginia’s turkey industry has taken flight in the last 22 years, despite data that at first glance appear to show an industry in decline.

Indeed, 200,000 fewer turkeys were produced in the state for slaughter in 2107 than in 2016.

And the number of turkeys produced annually has been dropping since 1996, down from a peak of 26.5 million to just 17 million turkeys.

But this free fall in the number of turkeys produced hasn’t crippled the Virginia turkey industry — actually, its total value has nearly doubled since 1995.

The answer to this paradox? Pricier, fatter turkeys.

In the past two decades the average turkey gained 8.4 pounds, and the price of a pound of turkey has climbed 83.5 percent. These two factors combined have created a more robust turkey industry while dropping the headcount of turkeys slaughtered.

The Virginia turkey industry even surpasses the Virginia chicken industry in several metrics. Pound per pound, turkey is worth 35 cents more than chicken. In terms of price per head, an individual turkey — approximately five times the weight of a chicken and with more expensive meat — is worth more than eight times as much as a chicken.

Of course, the chicken industry still dwarfs the turkey industry in terms of both pounds and birds produced, but the Virginia turkey industry is still notable on a national scale. Virginia produced the sixth-highest number of turkeys nationally in 2016.