Article excerpted with permission from Post and Courier.
November 23, 2017 by Thad Moore
Every year, 12 million or so turkey hatchlings arrive in South Carolina, bound for hundreds of farms in the Pee Dee and the Upstate where they will be raised for months.
By one estimate, the turkeys — mostly males, known as toms — will be worth more than $400 million a year once they’ve all grown up. They’ll easily be the state’s second-largest farm product, far bigger than iconic crops like peaches, cotton or tobacco. Only chickens will contribute more to the state’s agriculture sector.
But the enormous size of the turkey industry here has little to do with the state’s farming traditions. South Carolina hardly has a long heritage as a poultry-producing state. The grains the birds eat aren’t grown here, either.
The prominence of turkeys in the Palmetto State economy owes instead to the forces of logistics plied by one of the world’s largest food producers. The emergence of South Carolina’s turkey supply chain is akin to the growth of auto parts manufacturing that followed BMW’s factory in Spartanburg and the aerospace work that followed Boeing’s arrival in North Charleston.
The kernel of the turkey industry is a household name, too: Oscar Mayer.
That’s because most of the turkey sold under the Oscar Mayer name passes through a factory in Newberry: Bologna, bacon and franks. Cold cuts with applewood, honey and mesquite flavoring.
The operation processes millions of turkeys a year, though its parent company, Kraft Heinz, won’t say how much food it produces each year. It’s one of three Oscar Mayer turkey plants in the nation, and the company said Newberry’s is the largest.
The plant, which is nearly 50 years old, is a force in the state’s agriculture sector. It buys the overwhelming majority of South Carolina’s turkeys, and it has spurred the industry’s expansion here.
In fact, Ron Prestage, who runs the state’s largest turkey company, said his firm wouldn’t be here without it. Cassatt-based Prestage Farms of South Carolina oversees 578 turkey houses in eight counties, mostly around its headquarters near Camden.