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Higher turkey prices are blamed on increased demand, higher feed costs and last month's snowstorms that wiped out a number of birds up North.

6:14 AM, Nov 18, 2011   |    comments
A Royal Palm variety Tom turkey fans his tail feathers at the Circle-S-Ranch in North Fort Myers. If it ends up on a Thanksgiving dinner table, it'll bring a good price. / Sarah Coward/special to news-press.com
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(News-Press.com) There will be many things to give thanks for this Thanksgiving. The rising cost of a turkey dinner probably won't be high on the list.

A Thanksgiving dinner for 10 has gone up in price 13 percent since last year, according to a survey by the American Farm Bureau Federation. What cost a family, on average, $43.47 in 2010 is up to $49.20 this holiday season - the largest increase seen in the survey's 25-year history. That calculation includes a 16-pound turkey as well as pumpkin pie ingredients, stuffing, rolls, sweet potatoes and fresh cranberries. Turkey experienced the largest price increase - jumping 22 percent to $21.57. That's a spike of about 25 cents per pound.

"Turkey's up for a couple of reasons. I think the main one is demand seems to be very strong," said John Anderson, a senior economist with the Farm Bureau.

The birds are being produced in greater quantity than last year, but supply is still failing to keep pace with demand, Anderson said. Turkey exports also are up 13 percent, with a large number of the birds going to Mexico.

Publix is seeing the increase in turkey prices as well, but has chosen to sell the birds at a loss rather than raise its retail prices, spokeswoman Shannon Patten said.

"We work real hard to minimize or reduce the price increases that we receive from our suppliers. And this Thanksgiving we have so many great deals to keep the budget balanced for Thanksgiving dinner," Patten said.

Turkey is going for 59 cents a pound at Publix this year - exactly the same rate as last year. That compares with the $1.35 a pound average reported for 2011 by the Farm Bureau.

Turkey farmers have to sell their birds for more to compensate for the rising price of feed, said Stuart Stein, owner of Circle-S-Ranch & Poultry in North Fort Myers. The ranch sells poultry to individuals who want to raise them or take them to a local butcher in time for Thanksgiving. This year, Stein sold his 10- to 18-pound turkeys for $25 to $35 - up from $20 to $30 last year. That's because he's paying $14 for a 50-pound bag of feed that cost $8.75 last year, he said.

"The cost of feed is going higher and higher," Stein said.

Still, he's already sold out of Thanksgiving birds. He sold more than 100 this year - about the same as last year. Stein doubled the amount of baby turkeys sold compared to last year, meaning more people want to raise their own turkeys and make sure they are healthy and pesticide free, he said. Cost cutting probably isn't the main reason for the grow-your-own turkey choice, as feeding the birds can get expensive.

Ada's Natural Foods Market, an organic grocery store in south Fort Myers, is selling turkeys for about 10 percent more this year. The unexpected cold front that brought early snow storms to the East Coast wiped out about 33,000 turkeys, said store manager Brad Engle. That loss hit organic markets especially hard because they have fewer wholesale farms to choose from.

These days it may almost be cheaper to go out for Thanksgiving, said Sarah Khaliq, 38. Now that her daughter is away from home, she plans to skip the time in the kitchen and instead go to a nice restaurant with her husband. Cost was part of the deciding factor. Khaliq has noticed the prices of everything increasing much more this year than in past years, she said.

"I see increases in just the nominal things that you use every day," she said.

Boston Market sells a 12-person turkey meal with all the holiday sides for $89.99, according to the store's website.

A Thanksgiving dinner is $29 per person at Bayfront Bistro on Fort Myers Beach, according to the website.

Tracey Gerlach, 36, of Fort Myers, won't let rising costs put a damper on her holiday dinner plans. This year will be her nephew Nicholas' first Thanksgiving and she plans to celebrate with a home-cooked meal and with 10 to 12 family members, she said.

"It's worth it. If we have to spend a couple extra bucks - fine with me," Gerlach said.

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