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Here’s how much money farmers make when you buy your Thanksgiving meal

A close-up picture of a Thanksgiving meal on a table, with a turkey, squash, cheese and cranberry sauce.
U.S. Department of Agriculture
For most Thanksgiving meal staples, there's a big gap between what consumers pay at the grocery store and what makes it back to the farmers growing the food products.

Farmers got a slightly smaller percentage of what consumers spent on food last year than the year before, according to the most recent report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In most cases, Thanksgiving staples return cents on the dollar to farmers.

Farmers received less than 15 cents for every dollar spent on food in 2022.

That’s according to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It’s slightly down from 2021, when farmers received about 15.2 cents.

The National Farmers Union used USDA data to break down the farmer’s share for Thanksgiving classics.

For example, pumpkin farmers get 16 cents for a $1.79 can of pie filling. Cranberry farmers get about 30 cents per $2.99 of cranberries. A 5-pound bag of potatoes, priced at $3.99, returns about 60 cents to farmers.

The people raising the star of the show – the turkey, of course – get one of the lowest returns, just 6 cents per pound.

That’s likely because it takes a lot to deliver turkeys to shoppers, according to Ashley Kohls with the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association.

“Turkey starts with the grain farmer for the corn or soy it eats. Then there’s the fuel, labor and transportation to the meat plant and then to grocery shelves,” she said. “Turkey probably has to go through the most processing, and there’s just going to be an additional cost versus a bag of cranberries or a bag of potatoes.”

Kohls called Thanksgiving the turkey industry’s “Super Bowl” and said the prices shoppers see in grocery stores are likely lower than market costs.

“Around Thanksgiving stores will deeply discount turkey, because they want folks to come in and get all of their holiday shopping,” she said. “Prices now are not necessarily tied to wholesale prices.”

A graphic shows how much food -- like potatoes, turkey and sweet corn -- is grown and consumed for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Mike Stranz leads advocacy at the National Farmers Union and said the supply chain is long and complicated for most food products.

“There are a lot of steps in the food chain between the farm gate and the dinner plate,” he said. “A lot of hands are involved in processing, marketing, distributing, selling, preparing these food products. So it stands to reason there's going to be a difference between what you're paying at the grocery store and what the farmer receives.”

Stranz added that increasingly processed food and dying competition has also pushed down the farmer’s share of the dollar.

“There are so few options for farmers to sell their crops or livestock,” he said. “A lot of the competition that used to be there amongst those marketing streams has gone.”

The National Farmers Union is pushing for an anti-competition title in the upcoming farm bill, to increase transparency in markets, enforce antitrust laws and build new markets for farmers.

This story was produced in partnership with Harvest Public Media, a collaboration of public media newsrooms in the Midwest. It reports on food systems, agriculture and rural issues.

Elizabeth Rembert reports on agriculture out of Nebraska for Harvest Public Media.
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