Turkey Helps Iowa’s Economy Thrive

The numbers are impressive. Approximately 14 million turkeys will be processed in Iowa in 2014, and 11 million of these birds will be grown in state. This helps drive the

economy in Iowa, which boasts 118 turkey farms and ranks ninth in U.S. turkey production.

“When you raise the birds and process them in Iowa, that’s where you get the most economic impact for the state,” says Gretta Irwin, executive director of the Iowa Turkey Federation.

In 2011, Iowa’s turkey industry was responsible for as much as $1.43 billion in total economic activity throughout the state, creating or supporting up to 6,750 jobs. Iowa State University President Steven Leath and his colleagues, including Wendy Wintersteen, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, saw this firsthand when they visited Circle Hill Farms near Ellsworth last fall.

“President Leath and I were impressed by Circle Hill Farm’s facilities and the high level of management,” Wintersteen says.

Safety first

West Liberty Foods, which is a major supplier to Subway restaurants, also was a highlight of Leath and Wintersteen’s tour of Iowa’s turkey industry. Since 2003, the company has partnered with Iowa State University Meat Science Extension and Southeast Iowa Area Extension to develop and implement an innovative food safety training program at West Liberty Foods’ plant in Mount Pleasant, which produces ready-to-eat products.

The training, which is taught by a West Liberty Foods employee and a representative of Southeast Iowa Area Extension, addresses sanitation, personal hygiene, allergens, foodborne illness, bacteria and cross contamination. Upon successful completion of the training, which includes passing an exam, participants are awarded a certificate and one continuing education unit from Iowa State.

“Since its inception, more than 400 food safety training classes have been taught, and more than 4,600 people have successfully completed the training,” says Joseph Cordray, an extension meat specialist. “In 2007 when West Liberty Foods opened a plant in Tremonton, Utah, a similar food safety training program was implemented there.”

Partnering for Iowans

West Liberty Foods has long been a leader in food safety, Cordray adds. In 2008, the company co-sponsored a food safety conference with Iowa State and invited other Subway suppliers to attend. “West Liberty Foods’ leaders understand food safety issues have implications throughout the industry,” Cordray says.

The university’s ties with West Liberty Foods continue to strengthen, noted Barbara Anderson, an extension nutrition and health program specialist. “This partnership is a great example of how extension and outreach is putting the university’s research and resources to work for Iowans.”

The stories of West Liberty Foods and Iowa’s turkey industry are inspirational, Wintersteen says. “They demonstrate the importance of processing in Iowa and how agriculture can strengthen our rural communities.”