Iowa Turkey Federation President Russ Yoder is fulfilling a Wayland tradition.
Yoder explains, “It’s almost a tradition, being a turkey farmer from Wayland, not only to serve on the board of directors of the Iowa Turkey Federation, but being president. I have the honor of following men like David Roth, Benjie Roth, Greg Graber, Jason Roth, Robert Achen, and my uncle, Richard Yoder. So in essence, it’s a family tradition as well.”
Family farms is how turkey production has grown in southeast Iowa. In Muscatine County, family farmers raise around 300,000 turkeys annually. In southeast Iowa, around 2 million turkeys are raised. Iowa State University has estimated that each turkey raised on Iowa farms generates twenty dollars for Iowa’s economy. Much of the $40 million dollars generated by the turkey farmers is spent locally. Feed is the number one cost in raising a turkey. Area turkeys consume around two million bushels of corn and over 60,000 bushels of soybeans.
“I’ve been observing and raising turkeys for over 30 years,” says Yoder. “In this time, I’m proud to see the improvements turkey farmers are doing to help their turkeys.” New ventilation and misting systems inside the turkey barns help keep the turkeys cool on hot summer days. Farmers’ daily attention to water quality has resulted in new filtration systems. Even lighting in the barns has changed to make the turkeys feel more comfortable and save energy. Solar panels are becoming a common part of the barns to help support the mission of reducing impact on the environment.
“Farmers are also utilizing new research in turkey genetics and feed formulation to increase the sustainability of our farms,” says Yoder. For example, working with turkey suppliers, turkey nutritionists, and our local feed mill, today’s turkeys achieve better feed conversion rates (the amount of feed needed to produce a pound of turkey meat). In 1990, the U.S. turkey industry used 10.17 tons of feed to produce 6.06 billion pounds of turkey meat. By 2016, this dropped 1.7 million tons to 8.45 tons of feed. This reduces the acres of corn and soybeans needed to feed turkeys and results in other benefits like fewer semi trucks hauling feed on the road.
Marketing turkeys has also changed. “Growing up, we sold our turkeys to Louis Rich in West Liberty. In 1996, Oscar Mayer decided to sell the processing plant. West Liberty Foods was created by the Iowa Turkey Growers Cooperative, made up of 47 Iowa-based turkey farmers like my family,” stated Yoder.
West Liberty Foods is one of the top 50 U.S. protein producers, with annual production of 400 million pounds of product. The company supplies sliced and specialty protein products (turkey, chicken, beef, and pork) for both foodservice and retail.
Yoder commends the company. “As a farmer and owner of West Liberty Foods, I am proud of our commitment to reducing our impact on the environment. All West Liberty Foods processing plants are landfill free. Our Mount Pleasant plant was the first in July 2012, followed by our West Liberty plant in December of 2012. This program has resulted in over two million pounds of garbage annually being diverted from local landfills and recycled from just the West Liberty plant.”
As president of the Iowa Turkey Federation, Russ sees firsthand how the Federation works to support farmers. “Together we work on federal issues like opposing EPA’s proposed Waters of the U.S. rule,” says Yoder, “where the EPA has gone too far by designating senseless pools of waters as waters of the U.S.”
Work is also being done on establishing a two-tiered animal disease program in the 2018 Farm Bill. First is a new Animal Pest and Disease Disaster Prevention and Response Program, administered by APHIS, which would provide a proactive, concerted, and preventive “boots on the ground” effort focusing on early detection and rapid response to protect the nation’s animal agriculture industry. The second request builds on the National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN) to provide rapid detection of and response to animal diseases, develop disease prevention and mitigation technologies, including vaccines, and identify and support critical research needs.
Locally, the Federation is working to support Iowa’s turkey farmers. “For example,” says Yoder, “the current market prices for turkey meat are down. Our executive director, Gretta Irwin, traveled to China with the governor to encourage China to remove their ban on turkey products due to Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza in the US in 2015.”
Other traditions for the Iowa turkey industry include our Winter Convention in December. “I look forward to this meeting,” said Yoder. “It is a time when the whole turkey family—vendors, suppliers, veterinarians, and farmers—come together and find solutions to issues in the industry. An old guy told me, ‘You don’t need to do one thing 100% better, do 100 things 1% better.’ When you get that many people together, you can get a whole lot of 1% solutions!”