COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — A researcher at the University of Missouri's flagship campus in Columbia has found that turkeys don't need as much protein as they're getting and that adopting his feeding plan could save the industry $100 million.
Jeff Firman, a professor in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, tested his theory on 800 turkeys, giving them a mixture that included more cheap grains and fewer proteins. He found that the birds still met health targets and reached market weight in 18 to 21 weeks.
"When you reduce protein, the costs come down," he told the Columbia Daily Tribune.
Corn and soybean — both of which figure heavily in turkey's diets — have been getting more expensive. But producers have done little to alter what they feed the birds over the past 25 years.
Firman's new feeding model, which has been dubbed the Missouri Ideal Turkey Diet, costs from $13 per ton to $25 per ton less, a reduction of 8 percent to 10 percent.
He said the industry is responding cautiously. One company official told him they are not ready to experiment with thousands of birds.
"Everybody is certainly interested, and they'll slowly check our requirements against what they're using," he said. Large producers such as the "Cargills and Butterballs, they have nutritionists who will look at the numbers they're using and see if they can switch to a cheaper format. They don't want to compromise growth rate."
A price reduction would be good news for consumers who spent more to feed their families and friends this Thanksgiving Day. A 16-pound turkey and all the trimmings will cost an average of $49.20, a 13 percent jump from last year, or about $5.73 more, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation, which says grocers have raised prices to keep pace with higher-priced commodities.