By Heather Brown

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — If you’re going to eat turkey this Thanksgiving, there’s a good chance the bird was raised in Minnesota.  For the past 13 years, Minnesota has ranked first in turkey producing and processing.

So, why are we such a turkey state? Good Question.

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Minnesota farmers produce 18 percent of all turkeys in the United States, followed by North Carolina and Arkansas.

Steve Olson, executive director of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association, says this question is a common one this time of year.  He credits several reasons for Minnesota’s performance in the turkey industry.

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“We have a lot of multi-generational turkey farmers,” says Olson. “They’ve been through those business cycles. They know there’s good times, they put money away to make it through the bad times and they’re pretty business-savvy too.”

Minnesota is also a large corn and soybean producer, which can account for more than half the cost of raising a bird.  One 30 pound turkey requires 75 pounds of feed over its lifetime. Being closer to the food source means lower transportation costs.

Two local pioneers also realized turkey production could be a lucrative business early on.  Earl B. Olson created Jennie-O in southwestern Minnesota and Wally Jerome started Jerome Foods in Wisconsin, which later became the Turkey Store Company.  Both businesses later merged into the Jennie-O Turkey Store under Hormel Foods.

And, Olson credits the University of Minnesota for its research, help and guidance regarding turkey farms in Minnesota.

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“As we’ve had challenges over time, whether it’s disease or how to better feed turkeys, we’ve been able to turn to those resources and they help us answer questions that we have,” says Olson.

Heather Brown