A Flock of Challenges for NJ’s Turkey Farms This Thanksgiving

Ahead of the holiday, local purveyors are facing labor shortages and increased supply prices.

Turkeys are seen at DiPaola Turkey Farms in Hamilton. Craig Warga/Bloomberg via Getty Images

It’s all (available) hands on deck as New Jersey’s turkey farms ready for their second pandemic-era Thanksgiving.

Labor shortages have hit local purveyors, including Hinck’s Turkey Farm in Wall Township. According to Margie Hinck Longo, it’s been tough to find workers for the farm’s Manasquan retail shop, where the birds are sold and picked up. “We are lucky enough that our farm relies on family and friends…. We even have friends that take time off from their regular jobs and help us the week of Thanksgiving,” she says. Hinck’s plans to sell about 4,000 turkeys to individual customers for Thanksgiving.

But some other farms are stopping sales altogether. After one of her workers quit during the pandemic, Sheryl Polnasek of Polnasek Poultry Farm in Hillsborough decided for the second year in a row to forgo offering turkeys over the holidays.

Between labor shortages, increased supply prices and uncertainty surrounding the size of Thanksgiving gatherings this year, Artie DiPaola of DiPaola Turkey Farms in Hamilton calls the situation a “perfect storm” for New Jersey’s small family farms, even those as established as his. “Grain prices are some of the highest ever, so feeding the livestock is costing a lot more money—35 percent more,” he says. “While I’ve raised my prices about 3 percent, there’s a great disparity.”

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For Thanksgiving, DiPaola typically sells 3,000–3,500 turkeys at his farm shop, select grocery stores and farmers markets, but this year, he’s having a hard time predicting buyers’ needs.

What he does have is experience from last year, when many customers canceled their orders for larger birds at the last minute so they could adapt to smaller holiday gatherings. DiPaola says he hopes to make a profit this year.

Labor shortages are also affecting turkey size, potentially making it tougher for shoppers to find smaller birds this Thanksgiving. The United States Department of Agriculture reports a shortage of fresh 8–16-pound female turkeys in the wholesale market. “A major reason is the shortage of labor,” a USDA rep says. “Plants aren’t able to process smaller [turkey] hens in time. This results in the hen flocks gaining excess weight and ending up in the 16–25-pound category.”

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