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Turkeys from Walcott farm to be pardoned by Trump at White House ceremony

Turkeys from Walcott farm to be pardoned by Trump at White House ceremony

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Two turkeys from a Walcott farm's "presidential flock" are headed to Washington, D.C., to be pardoned by President Donald Trump.

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig stopped Friday at the farm of Ron and Susie Kardel to help send off two toms for the president's review and pardoning.

The Walcott family is the eighth from Iowa to raise the turkeys for the annual pardoning, the Iowa Department of Agriculture & Land Stewardship tweeted.

The first Presidential Turkey Proclamation even was held in 1947, when President Harry Truman received a live turkey from the National Turkey Federation, according to the Iowa Department of Agriculture. And "pardoning” as a custom began with President George H.W. Bush in 1989.

One of the birds will be named the official Thanksgiving Turkey and the other will serve as an alternate, according to an Iowa State University news release. Both will then live out their days at Iowa State — where animal science students, faculty and College of Veterinary Medicine students will contribute to the care — and will be available for public viewing starting at 10 a.m. on Dec. 5.

Individuals can also follow along with their journey to the White House on the National Turkey Federation Facebook page. The turkeys will make their way to D.C. next week via van for a stay at The Willard Hotel before visiting the White House.

"They’ve kind of been pampered," Ron Kardel said. "We built a 10-by-24-foot building with ventilation, heating, air conditioning and a little patio outside" for the "presidential flock" of 30 turkeys, from which the two toms were chosen.

The turkeys hatched in early July and have been "gobbling along to oldies tunes" to help them get used to crowd noises, according to the National Turkey Federation.

A sixth-generation turkey and row crop farmer from Walcott, Ron Kardel serves as the current chairman of the National Turkey Federation and is responsible for supplying a turkey for the annual National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation.

Kardel said that having his turkeys selected as this year's National Presidential Turkeys is an honor he relishes in an otherwise tough year for the turkey industry.

"Especially in 2020 it’s kind of nice to have something good happening and it’s a feel-good celebration," Kardel said. "It’s been a tough year for lots of industries for lots of different reasons, and it’s nice to have a feel-good story."

The COVID-19 pandemic lopped off a large portion of the industry’s market as restaurants closed their doors, said Kardel, who also serves as vice chairman of West Liberty Foods, which supplies sliced turkey to Subway sandwich shops and other restaurants and various grocery chains.

"It was a huge implications for us, and the irony was that we had too much meat and people in food lines, and no nobody likes to see that," Kardel said. "With help of some relaxed labeling laws, we were able to divert from one stream into a different stream to keep America fed," shifting some production to retail packaging.

As a result, growers have temporarily paused their flocks this fall to allow the company to clear its freezers, Kardel said.

The Iowa Farm Bureau Federation's 35th annual Thanksgiving survey released on Friday shows the cost of turkey is at its lowest in 10 years. At roughly $1.21 per pound, it is the lowest price since 2010, according to the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.

"Our livestock and poultry farmers still face the challenge of recovering from lost markets and supply chains impacted by COVID, but that hasn’t stopped them from producing sustainably-grown, real meat products we enjoy at Thanksgiving," Sam Funk, IFBF director of agriculture analytics and research, said in a press release.

Iowa ranks seventh in the nation in turkey production, with 130 turkey farmers, and the fifth-largest state for turkey processing. The turkey industry generates $10.64 billion in total economic activity throughout Iowa, according to  Iowa State University.

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