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October 27: Talking Turkey

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In a letter to his daughter, Ben Franklin suggested the turkey as the national bird. While the turkey was passed over in favor of the eagle for that honor, we Americans like our turkeys. The bird is a popular centerpiece for holiday meals. About 88% of Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving, adding up to forty-six million turkeys. Christmas is also a popular turkey day, with twenty-two million birds consumed.

Agriculture is North Dakota’s number one industry. Soybeans are the top crop. Other familiar products are wheat, sunflower, and cattle. Turkeys do not generally come to mind when considering North Dakota agriculture, but there are nine turkey producers in the state, producing about one million birds a year. In comparison, top turkey producer Minnesota raises about forty million a year, enough to provide seven turkeys for each Minnesotan. North Dakota does not have a turkey processing plant, so the birds are shipped to South Dakota or Minnesota.

On this date in 1930, the state’s Department of Agriculture reported that North Dakota’s turkey production had decreased by twelve percent in comparison to the previous year. For the country as a whole, the size of the turkey crop decreased by three percent. Prices for turkeys had dropped dramatically in 1929, and that was in large part blamed for the decrease in the 1930 turkey crop. While the weather had been quite favorable for raising turkeys, disease had taken its toll. It was estimated that only about forty-nine percent of the turkeys hatched would make it to market. In spite of the decrease, the Bismarck Tribune assured readers that there was no need for concern. There would be plenty of turkeys for the holidays.

Today, the North Dakota Turkey Federation is sponsored by the North Dakota State Agriculture Department. The Federation supports and encourages turkey farming with educational material, nutritional brochures and recipes.

And turkey is not just for the holidays anymore, when only 29% of the turkey supply is consumed. The top three most popular turkey products are whole birds, ground turkey, and sliced deli meat. So, while North Dakota isn't a huge turkey producer, it does help keep the country supplied.

Dakota Datebook by Carole Butcher


Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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