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‘Large supply gaps’ coming, says No. 2 U.S. turkey processor

Bird flu will have a “meaningful impact” on turkey supplies in coming months, said the head of Hormel Foods, the second-largest turkey processor in the country, on Thursday. Chief executive Jim Snee said Hormel anticipated “large supply gaps” for its Jennie-O Turkey Store operations in the months ahead because of flock losses.

More than 5.3 million turkeys on 119 farms in eight states, from North Carolina to North Dakota, have died of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) or in cullings of infected flocks this year, according to a USDA database. The largest outbreak was on a farm with 287,500 turkeys in Meeker County, Minnesota, 70 miles west of Minneapolis. Minnesota is the largest turkey-producing state.

Hormel reported record net sales of $3.1 billion during its second quarter, 19% higher than the same period the year before. The company, based in Austin, Minnesota, owns brands that include Skippy peanut butter, SPAM, and Planters nuts as well Jennie-O. In a statement, Snee said turkey operations faced “an uncertain period ahead” while managing the impact of bird flu outbreaks.

“Similar to what we experienced in 2015, HPAI is expected to have a meaningful impact on industry poultry supplies over the coming months,” said Snee. “Beginning in the third quarter, we anticipate large supply gaps in the Jennie-O Turkey Store vertically integrated supply chain, caused by flock losses to date.”

Hormel has begun to rebuild its turkey flocks, said Snee, who was quoted in the Minneapolis Star Tribune as saying, “Assuming we don’t have any more outbreaks from this event, or we don’t see a recurrence in the fall, we expect to have more traditional volumes available” in time for Thanksgiving.

HPAI was confirmed in a 36th state, Georgia, on Thursday, following testing of samples from a backyard flock in Toombs County, 80 miles west of Savannah. Nearly 38 million birds in domestic flocks, mostly chickens and turkeys, have died in the outbreaks that began in early February.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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