Why the cost of Thanksgiving dinner is at its lowest price since 2010

By Mark Puleo, AccuWeather staff writer
November 20, 2018, 12:50:07 PM EST

As Americans prepare their elastic waistbands for this year's Thanksgiving feast, they can also be thankful for the extra money they may find in their wallets. For the third straight year, the American Farm Bureau Federation found the average cost of Thanksgiving dinner to have declined in total price from the previous year's holiday.

In the Farm Bureau's 33rd annual survey, the results indicate the average cost for this year’s meal to be $48.90. John Newton, the AFBF Chief Economist, said that this year’s average cost is at the lowest level since 2010.

“Thanks to an ample supply, turkey remains affordable for consumers,” Newton said in the release. “Which helps keep the overall cost of the dinner reasonably priced as well.”

Thanksgiving turkey gobble gobble

According to the survey, the price of turkeys dropped 3 percent from last year, equivalent to about $1.36 per pound.

The survey is based on prices of common items found on many Thanksgiving tables, such as turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberries and pumpkin pie. All the quantities were adjusted to sufficiently serve a family of 10.

Along with turkeys, the price of milk, sweet potatoes, green peas and rolls were also found to be less expensive than they were in 2017.


However, some ingredients, like pumpkins and cranberries, may see their cost jump in 2019 due to weather impacts from 2018. Many of those impacts came from a difficult summer on farmers.

For farmers in the north, an overabundance of rain ruined many pumpkin harvests, as issues of mold and mildew became problematic due to flooding. Even minor flooding can have a severe impact on pumpkin growing because of how low the vegetable grows to the ground.

Another factor which hurt some pumpkin production was Hurricane Florence. While the storm missed some of the largest producing areas of North Carolina, the heavy rainfall still impacted some smaller farms.

“Some reports from Michigan indicate a challenging year for pumpkins due to early drought, recent downpours, and disease,” the United States Department of Agriculture stated in a release. “In some areas of North Carolina with excessive rain during the summer, the pumpkin crop was reduced somewhat due to disease…”

As for cranberries, growers had the exact opposite problem in 2018. Due to a surplus of the fruit again this year, growers requested to have a large portion of the harvest destroyed in order to keep prices from dropping too low.

Cranberry harvest

In this Oct. 11, 2016 photo, farmworker Juan Hernandez walks through a cranberry bog in Ilwaco, Wash. This year’s estimated crop of about 170,000 barrels (8,500 tons) of cranberries puts the apple-giant state fifth in the U.S. behind Wisconsin and Massachusetts, the two states that produce the bulk of the crop. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

“Basically, they’re going to destroy 25 percent of the crop,” Paul Mitchell, a University of Wisconsin agricultural economist, told jsonline.com. “It’s a sign of how bad of shape the industry is in, that they’re actually using crop destruction as a way to try and help farm income… It’s the best choice they face, but it’s not the choice they want.”

Cranberry bogs thrive off of wet weather and the summer of 2018 had plenty of rain to provide in both Massachusetts and Wisconsin, where the large majority of cranberry harvesting takes place. The overabundance of crops has kept the price of the fruit low for years, at the expense of growers, but the trend may swing in the other direction if the growers get more steady weather.

While the weather impacts on pumpkins and cranberries may not have effected the 2018 Thanksgiving meal price, they could certainly play a factor in 2019 if difficult weather hurts farmers again.

But for 2018, American consumers can once again sleep well in their post-feast nap. However, while families celebrate the lower turkey prices, vegetable farmers around the country hope for opposite impacts in future years.

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