The turkey industry ends 2010 the same way it began, with several bright spots standing out amid ongoing economic and political uncertainty. For the first nine months, the industry enjoyed its most profitable year since 2007, as a better supply-demand balance strengthened turkey prices, feed costs remained manageable, and it appeared turkey companies had weathered the worst of the 2008-09 downturn.

By the fall, though, several factors were erasing a portion of the year’s gain. Revised crop estimates drove corn prices and feed costs higher. This came on the heels of a proposed USDA rule that could dramatically change production models throughout the industry. New regulatory and legislative initiatives on environmental and food-safety issues also lurked on the horizon.

And then came one of the most volatile elections in recent memory. Republicans have regained control of the House and also scored significant gains in the Senate. Will this shift in the power structure force the two parties to work together or will gridlock continue? After all, a Congress controlled by sizeable Democratic majorities in both chambers failed to act on most of the Fiscal Year 2011 appropriations bills, FDA food-safety legislation, a proposed extension of ethanol subsidies and numerous other items that affect the turkey industry.

The Republicans will use every parliamentary trick available to keep the Democrats from acting unilaterally in any “lame-duck” session of the existing Congress. Will that force a spirit of cooperation in November and December that extends to the new Congress next year, or will the current Congress simply “punt” on most of these issues and see if a divided Congress can have better luck starting in January? At best, this is a recipe for uncertainty.

Here is a more detailed look at some of the industry’s key issues.

Renewable fuels

NTF is working with a variety of coalition partners to ask for the ethanol tax credit and import tariffs to expire as scheduled and rally against efforts to create new subsidies for the ethanol industry. NTF believes it is time for the corn-based ethanol industry to stand on its own two feet and be part of the competitive marketplace purchasing feedstock without federal subsidies.

USDA (GIPSA) Proposed Livestock and Marketing Rule

NTF and its membership are concerned about the proposed livestock marketing rule from USDA’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA), which could significantly change the way those in the meat and poultry industry make a living. Farming at any point in time is challenging, uncertain and risky. This proposed rule could harm the economy as it could eliminate agriculture jobs.

NTF and its coalition partners didn’t wait quietly for the Nov. 22 comment deadline. NTF, along with the National Meat Association (NMA), National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) on Nov. 10 released the results of an economic analysis of USDA’s proposed GIPSA rule. GIPSA never consulted with industry or any experts in an effort to determine the full economic impact of the rule. Therefore, the industry had to conduct its own economic analysis. This proposed rule, if implemented, will result in job losses that will severely hurt rural America — the parts of America that the Secretary of Agriculture is trying to grow.

Individual congressional offices are even voicing their objections to the proposed rule by highlighting the monumental impact on agriculture. Senators and congressmen from both parties have sent letters to USDA reprimanding the agency for not conducting a sufficient cost-benefit analysis that left producers to conduct one of their own.

NTF believes GIPSA should withdraw the proposed rule and re-propose a new rule that complies with Congress’ original, more limited intent.

Turkey “Upgrade” Tool

Through this unpredictable future, NTF will make sure it has the tools in place to keep turkey products in the minds of the consumer. NTF in 2010, through a partnership with Shape Up America! — the healthy-weight campaign spearheaded by former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop — launched its “Upgrade It!” with turkey campaign. The campaign features the Meal Upgrade Calculator, an online tool that features 24 different meals in which simple “upgrades” will improve the nutritional profile of favorite family meals. Consumers can use the calculator to change the type of meat and poultry, the side dishes, and even the condiments to decrease the amount of fat and calories in breakfast, lunch and dinner menus.

NTF will continue its partnership with Shape Up America! in 2011 to build momentum to the “upgrade” concept by incorporating physical activity “upgrades” as part of the calculator so moms can learn how to combine small changes in the family diet with simple ways for families to become more active. In addition, NTF will survey moms to better understand their attitudes/beliefs about childhood obesity and their challenges in getting kids to eat healthier meals. The results of the survey will provide a compelling platform for NTF to offer new solutions through additions to its Meal Upgrade Calculator.

NTF Annual Convention

The turkey industry will remain focused on critical issues that could ultimately affect the industry’s ability to conduct business. NTF’s 2011 Annual Convention will be the perfect forum for more than 500 turkey industry leaders to work through many of these obstacles. The convention is Feb. 9-12, at the Loews Ventana Canyon in Tucson.

Food safety will be on the agenda as USDA’s Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Elisabeth Hagen will be the keynote speaker. Hagen is expected to discuss the implementation of new science-based food-safety technologies and the ongoing evolution of the HACCP inspection system at the General Session Feb. 10.

The General Session will also include presentations from a supermarket meat executive from a major chain who will discuss ways to include more turkey products in the retail meat case, along with Tom Elam, Farm Econ, LLC, who will provide an economic update on the turkey industry. This year’s session will lead off by honoring one of the Turkey on the Menu (T.O.M.) Award winners, a foodservice chain that exemplifies success with turkey menu applications.

Then during a second General Session on Feb. 12, various political experts will analyze the election results and provide a thorough post-election forecast for the turkey industry. Scheduled to be hosted by National Journal correspondent Major Garrett, he and two political experts from both major political parties will analyze the election results, survey the changed landscape in Washington, and offer insights into what strategies are likely to be successful with the new Congress. NTF will also be bringing ranking federal regulatory agency professionals and veteran government relations specialists to help the industry plan for the year ahead.

Joel Brandenberger is president of the National Turkey Federation. For more information about the federation visit, email or call (202) 898-0100.

November elections, proposed regulations could cloud 2011 forecast for the turkey industry.