WASHINGTON – US turkey producers are expected to scale back production beginning in fourth-quarter 2011 in light of relatively high grain prices projected for the remainder of 2011 and into 2012, according to the US Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service.

For 2011, turkey meat production is still expected to be larger than in 2010, but higher feed prices are expected to have a greater impact on production at the end of 2011 and into 2012. Turkey production is expected to be lower in the first half of 2012 and slightly lower for all of 2012 compared with 2011.

Turkey meat production in August 2011 totaled 501 million lbs., up 4.2 percent from a year earlier. A portion of this increase was the result of August 2011 having one additional slaughter day compared with the previous year. The number of turkeys slaughtered (22.1 million) was 2 percent higher, and the average live weight at slaughter was 28.5 lbs., or 2.1 percent higher than a year earlier.

The number of net poult placements for growout in August totaled 23.7 million birds, up 3.3 percent from the previous year. In the previous four months, net poult placements had been lower than the previous year. On a year-to-date basis, net poult placements have totaled 188.1 million birds, up less than 1 percent from the same period in 2010.

At the end of August, cold-storage holdings of turkey products totaled 524 million lbs., 4.3 percent higher than the previous year. Strong growth in production during the first two quarters of 2011 has led to a buildup in stocks. Overall turkey stocks had been below the previous year between November 2009 and May 2011.

The increase in turkey stocks over the last three months was due to growing cold-storage holdings of turkey parts. At the end of August, cold-storage holdings of whole birds were 290 million lbs., down 3.4 percent from August 2010, but cold-storage holdings of turkey parts totaled 234 million lbs., 15.8 percent higher than the previous year.

Even with very little production growth in the third quarter and a small decline forecast for the fourth quarter, the estimates for third-and fourth-quarter ending stocks were raised slightly. The third-quarter ending stocks estimate was increased to 500 million lbs., 26 million lbs. more than the previous year. The estimate for fourth-quarter 2011 ending stocks was raised by 15 million lbs. from last month to 215 million lbs. This is about 12 percent higher than the previous year.

Lower stock levels for whole turkeys have placed upward pressure on whole-bird prices. The average price for whole-hen turkeys (8-16 lbs. in the Eastern market) was $1.06 per lb. in third-quarter 2011, over 8 cents per lb. higher than a year earlier (up 8.6 percent).