WASHINGTON — For the third quarter of 2009, U.S. turkey production was 1.42 billion lbs., down 9.7% from a year earlier, according to the most recent Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook from the Economic Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture. The lower number is the result of a smaller number of birds slaughtered (down 10.1%), as the average liveweight of turkeys at slaughter was 28.4 lbs., up slightly from the previous year.

Turkey meat production in fourth-quarter 2009 is forecast at 1.48 billion lbs., which is considerably lower (6.7%) than a year earlier. With poult placements continuing to be lower than the previous year, the turkey meat production estimate for 2010 was lowered by 100 million lbs. to 5.73 billion. This is still slightly higher than in 2009, with the increase expected to come in the second half of the year.

Stocks of turkey products (whole birds and parts) have been gradually moving closer to their 2008 levels due to lower turkey meat production in 2009. By the end of September, overall turkey cold-storage holdings were 615 million lbs., down 1% from the previous year. However, cold-storage holdings of whole turkeys at the end of September were reported at 362 million lbs., still up 8% from a year earlier. The decline in turkey cold-storage holdings was due to lower stocks of turkey parts. At 253 million lbs., stocks of turkey parts at the end of September were down 12% from the previous year.

Prices for whole turkeys at the wholesale level averaged only 81 cents per pound in the third quarter and were down 16% compared with a year earlier — even with sharply lower third-quarter production and gradually decreasing levels of whole bird stocks. Whole-turkey prices are expected to average 81 to 83 cents per pound in fourth-quarter 2009, down about 5 cents per pound from fourth-quarter 2008.

With slightly higher production expected in 2010, wholesale whole bird prices are expected to average 77cents to 83 cents per pound.

Turkey exports totaled 49 million lbs. in September 2009, down 23% from the previous year. Shipments have been lower on a year-over-year basis throughout 2009. Turkey exports have been lower to almost all major markets, with lower shipments to Mexico (down 26%) having the largest impact on the market.

However, exports seem to be trending upward with shipments in third-quarter 2009 totaling 152 million lbs., much higher than in either the first or second quarters of 2009.