The world’s growing population is demanding more protein, and the Alabama broiler industry is part of supplying chicken globally. But there’s another bird in the poultry industry – the turkey – and an Alabama company is working to improve the turkey for a growing global appetite.
Turkey remains a holiday favorite in the U.S. However, Americans are consuming more turkey products like deli meats and sausage. That trend has actually resulted in a decline of the total pounds of turkey that disappear on a per-person basis. This declining trend dates back to the 1990s, according to the USDA Economic Research Service.
The domestic turkey industry has offered new products – like sausages and deli meats – to help keep turkey consumption steady. But the U.S. is also the world’s leading turkey exporter, with shipments increasing from 439 million pounds in 2002, to about 800 million pounds in 2012. Mexico is the biggest international destination, accounting for almost 65 percent of U.S. turkey exports. East Asian countries like China and Hong Kong are also important turkey trade partners.
While Alabama is not a major turkey producer, with “just one commercial turkey farm in the state,” according to Ray Hilburn, associate director of the Alabama Poultry and Egg Association. Aviagen, a worldwide leader in improving both chickens and turkeys, is headquartered in Huntsville. Its European turkey breeding program is geographically close to two growing turkey markets: Eastern Europe – including Russia – and Northern Africa. According to Aviagen, turkey production increased during the past decade from 5 to 8 million birds in Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and Egypt. The Alabama-based company sees potential in providing even more high-quality turkeys for production on European and North African farms.