MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Just in time for Thanksgiving, the nation’s top turkey producer is coming up a little short.

Butterball, based out of North Carolina, told retailers that orders for fresh 16-pound turkeys and larger have been cut in half.

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The shortage is nationwide.

Woody Hunt, manager of Rainbow Foods in St. Louis Park, says 40 years ago, Butterball was like the “Cadillac of turkeys.”

“Everybody wanted a Butterball, and if you didn’t have a Butterball on your table you couldn’t brag to your neighbors that you had the best turkey,” Hunt said.

Butterball produces about 20 percent of the nation’s turkeys. That’s about 1.3 billion pounds of turkey meat a year.

And the problem isn’t the production; it’s the size of the bird. Steve Olson, executive director of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association, says turkey farmers in North Carolina may be struggling with higher feed costs.

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“I think it’s a unique situation. And I think part of what’s maybe caused it is the industry as a whole kind of went through some cutbacks starting about 6 months ago due to the higher corn prices that we’ve been seeing for the past year,” Olson said.

The fresh, 16-pound Butterballs may come up short, but there will still be plenty of frozen ones. And at Rainbow Foods, there are plenty of other turkeys waiting to be carved.

“You won’t be able to move in our freezer in the back, which is half as big as a football field,” Hunt said.

Experts say they don’t expect Butterball to have the same problem next year if feed prices level-off.

Minnesota is the largest turkey producer in the country and will produce about 46 million turkeys this year.

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Minnesota-based Jennie-O is right behind Butterball in national turkey sales.

John Lauritsen