By Don Davis
Everyone was all smiles Monday as Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton led a traditional celebration of Minnesota’s role in Thanksgiving dinners across the country.
The governor was happy to brag about the industry’s nearly $1 billion impact to the Minnesota economy as the country’s leading turkey producing state.
Turkey growers wore smiles because 2014 is a good year for them, with high demand and relatively low costs raising the birds.
Those who do not have money to buy a turkey this year came out in good shape as the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association donated 11,500 pounds of turkey to food shelves in communities including Cannon Falls, Faribault, Melrose, Willmar, Thief River Falls, Frazee, Perham and Buffalo.
The only ones to lack smiles were a couple of passive, sad-looking turkeys that are destined for holiday dinner tables, and not as guests.
Dayton joked that while the president has authority to pardon turkeys, a governor does not. So despite the publicity the pair received from their Monday governor’s office appearance, their fate will be the same as 46 million other turkeys the state’s 450 turkey farm produce annually.
“Today we give thanks for our state’s strong agriculture industry and we reflect on the long and storied history of Minnesota’s turkey farmers,” said Pelican Rapids farmer John Gorton, Minnesota Turkey Growers Association president. “We are grateful for our ability to provide food to a growing world population, including the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving table, the turkey.”
The turkey producers’ donation will provide food for 14,500 people this holiday season. Turkey growers have donated more than 215,000 pounds of turkey since 2001, about enough to feed everyone in St. Paul.
Three companies in the state — Jennie-O Turkey Store in Willmar, Northern Pride Cooperative in Thief River Falls and Turkey Valley Farms in Marshall — have turkey processing plants throughout the state. The industry employs 26,000 Minnesotans.
Steve Olson of the turkey growers group said that farmers sell the birds for about $1.15 a pound, but the price in stores this time of year is about 89 cents. He said grocery stores offer turkey bargains this time of year to attract customers, who then buy other Thanksgiving meal essentials.
Gorton said this year has been very good to turkey growers. The $163 million of corn and $169 million of soybeans turkey farmers spent was about the same as in years past, keeping farmers’ input costs fairly static.
The 46 million-a-year production number also has remained static, Gorton said, which means the state does not produce so many turkeys that prices fall.