Traditional holiday foods for Texas tables won’t be in short supply this year, but the state’s worst drought on record is driving up some food prices that will make the cost of certain Thanksgiving foods slightly higher than last year, and it is threatening producers who say they fear a continued drought could force many of them out of business.

“The drought-driven uncertainty in the Texas poultry industry, complicated by tough state and federal regulations, has many of us worried about surviving another tough year,” says Kenny McCoy of Lazy K Turkey Farm.

McCoy, who raises turkeys near Temple, says in spite of modest price increases consumers might see at the grocery store this year, producers have been experiencing escalating operational costs for years without any significant increases in farm revenue, resulting in smaller profits.

“I have been raising turkeys in the same location for 32 years now and have never seen a significant increase in farm revenue,” he says. “Considering the cost of doing business and keeping up with loan payments, I am not making much more per turkey now than I did years ago.”

McCoy, like most turkey farmers in Texas, sells all of his product to Cargill.

“They provide the feed, but the price of water and electricity keeps going up, and I am buying water at a much higher rate than the average consumer. But worse than that, state and federal regulations have forced me to stop using turkey manure in my own fields because of stiff regulations and red tape, so I sell my turkey manure and buy my fertilizer like everyone else, and that has gone up considerably,” he adds.

McCoy says the turkey business alone isn’t enough to keep his farm going; he also runs cattle and grows his own hay and forage in a normal year.

“But the drought took care of that for us this year. Water is expensive and hard to come by so there isn’t any hay left, and I have sold half of my cows because of the price of feed. We will survive this year’s drought, but if it continues into next summer and fall, I don’t know what will happen,” McCoy said.

Stanley Rabke of Rabke’s Table Ready Meats in Willow City (near Fredericksburg) says the drought is squeezing farms and ranches in more ways than one. Rabke no longer raises his own turkeys and now focuses on his successful meat smoking operation.

High feed costs

“We had to give up raising our own poultry, and with the cost of poultry feed going up because of the drought, I am glad we did. But we are still paying a premium for livestock feed, and water, which was a real issue this last summer,” Rabke said.

He paid $100 for a bale of hay over the weekend and the only hay he can find this week is being shipped in from Canada.

 

“We process a lot of deer and wild game and if it wasn’t for the diversity of our operation I don’t know how we would have survived the drought this year. And I am very concerned about the prospect of another spring and summer without rain. It could be devastating to a lot of farm and ranch operations.”  

As the holidays approach, consumers will find an adequate supply of holiday foods at the local grocer for about the same price as last year, but McCoy and Rabke warn a continued drought could not only wreck havoc on Texas growers and producers, but it also could cause food prices to skyrocket by the time the holidays roll around next year.

“We just need to hope and pray for rain,” Rabke says.

As far as holiday consumers are concerned, Texas Farm Bureau assistant editor Amanda Hill says the overall spike in preparing Thanksgiving dinner will be about four-percent higher than last year.

“The drought has greatly impacted the supply of fresh pecans, so preparing that traditional pecan pie represents the greatest cost increase to consumers this year,” Hill says. “But the holiday meal still remains a bargain for those willing to shop wisely and spend some time in the kitchen.”

Hill says based upon the Texas Farm Bureau’s 2011 Grocery Price Watch Survey, a traditional Thanksgiving meal for ten should cost Texas consumers about $48.69. That represents a meager $2.17 increase over prices from last year’s fall survey.

Not everything on your Thanksgiving shopping list is getting more expensive. While the shortage of pecans has raised consumer costs, sweet potato prices are about six-percent lower than this time last year, and the price of cranberries is about the same. And while there was an ornamental pumpkin shortage earlier this fall, there is ample supply for baking-quality pumpkins for Thanksgiving pies.