As we approach Thanksgiving, you are likely to see news reports warning about a possible “turkey shortage” that could send people scrambling to get their hands on a holiday bird.

This spring, turkey farms in the Upper Midwest, including Iowa and top-producer Minnesota, were hit hard by an outbreak of avian influenza, which decimated entire flocks. Here in Iowa, where 25 percent of our turkey production was impacted, barns are just now starting to fill up with turkeys again.

But despite what you may hear in the news, or from talking with your friends and neighbors, Iowans likely won’t see a shortage of turkeys this holiday season, says Gretta Irwin, executive director of the Iowa Turkey Federation.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that supplies of frozen turkeys in cold storage, or refrigerated warehouses, are normal for this time of year, Irwin notes. “We’re right on track with where we have always been with supply,” she says.

So don’t feel like you have to rush out and buy a turkey before they all get gobbled up. In fact, you may end up saving a little money if you wait until grocery stores start offering Thanksgiving turkey specials, Irwin says.

Part of the reason is that the avian influenza outbreak was regionalized to the Upper Midwest, where migratory birds flying north in the spring were suspected of spreading the virus.

Other major turkey-producing states in North Carolina, Arkansas and California weren’t impacted by the outbreak. And in Iowa, most farmers don’t raise hen (female) turkeys for the holiday market. Instead, Iowa farmers raise tom (male) turkeys for value-added products, such as deli meats and turkey sausages.

As for turkey prices this fall, central Iowa grocery stores were selling frozen, whole turkeys for about $1.29 per pound in mid-October, about 10 to 20 cents higher than last year.

However, Irwin says Iowans will see the prices drop as grocery chains start offering specials to lure customers to do all their holiday shopping in their stores.

“I fully expect that we will see ‘loss leaders’ for turkey in grocery stores this year,” Irwin says. “So ‘buy a ham, get a turkey for free’ (specials). Or the turkey is under $1 a pound.”

Turkey remains a great value when compared to other protein choices, Irwin adds. You can freeze the turkey leftovers to make an endless variety of meals.

Irwin says she likes to add a little taco seasoning to pre-cooked, shredded turkey to prepare turkey tacos. You can also use turkey as a pizza topping or add it to a casserole.

“Looking at having that protein available as a quick and easy meal in the month of December I think is great because we seem to be so busy with holiday activities and baking and those types of things,” Irwin says. “So take that meat out (of the freezer), make a soup, make a salad. You just have to be creative.”

Irwin says she likes to freeze turkey leftovers in 2-cup measurements, which is the perfect amount for casseroles or meals, in heavy-duty freezer bags. Be sure to squeeze out as much air from the bag as possible to help prevent freezer burn.

And when you’re buying a Thanksgiving turkey, remember you can never have enough leftovers, Irwin says.

“Thanksgiving turkey is always great to celebrate. It’s America’s protein. Turkeys were here long before (the pilgrims) were, and so it’s still a great protein to celebrate at Thanksgiving time. It’s at a great price, and they will be available this year,” Irwin says.

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