Sanpete County's turkey farmers will have harvested slightly more than 4 million turkeys in 1988 when the last of this year's crop goes to Moroni Feed Co.'s processing plant about a week before Christmas.

Those 4 million turkeys translate into 66 million pounds of white and dark meat - 2 million more pounds than last year - and a record production since Moroni Feed was incorporated 50 years ago.Those numbers aren't all good news, though, said Joe C. Nielson, Moroni Feed's general manager. An oversupply of turkeys means that 1988 will not be a profitable year for Moroni Feed, although the profit situation will vary from grower to grower.

The projected 1989 numbers are likely to be somewhat less than this year's record, said Nielson. "We'll participate in an effort to cut back production by around 3 percent nationwide, to bring supply and demand into balance."

In its initial year as a cooperative, the members raised about 20,000 turkeys.

Nielson explained that all turkeys raised by Moroni Feed's 122 members go into two pools - one pool for the heavies, turkeys weighing 28 pounds or more, and the other pool for the lights, turkeys weighing under 28 pounds. All turkeys in a pool bring their growers the same average price, so that fluctuations in the market are evened out.

But the individual grower is still affected by factors like mortality in his attempt to make a profit.

This year, 46 million pounds of the total are being processed as lights, the consumer-size turkeys for the family's dinner table, and the other 18 million pounds as heavies, the commercial size for restaurants and hotels, Nielson said.

He said Moroni Feed will further process around 25 million pounds into parts, like roasts, steaks, ham, franks and bologna.

"It is this further processing that has helped make the turkey a year-round bird," Nielson said. "It has also contributed to the steady per-capita increase in turkey consumption."

Prices that Moroni Feed has received this year for the heavies it has sold have stood steady at about 86 cents a pound, but the returns for the lights have fluctuated between 75 and 87 cents, Nielson said.

"Of course," he said, "our growers receive a few cents less than that. And the consumer has benefited from very low prices on occasion because stores often use the turkey as a leader."

This year's prices have been a little higher than 1987's, Nielson said, but production costs have been up, too, about 4 percent, because of higher feed costs due to the drought.

"Moroni Feed had to draw on its reserves last year because of the profitability situation," Nielson said, adding that the same may be true for the 1988 crop when the figures are all in.

This doesn't mean that some growers will go hungry. Moroni Feed has a policy of holding back dividends, so that many members in 1989 will be receiving checks they earned five years ago.

This year's 4 million turkeys rank Sanpete County as one of the top 10 turkey-growing counties in the nation.

But those 4 million turkeys make Moroni Feed the largest employer in Sanpete County, with around 800 full-time and seasonal employees and a multimillion-dollar payroll.

It also keeps Moroni Feed's 122 members involved in a phase of agriculture that has been generally profitable over the last half century.

Nielson said the future for turkey growers is promising - partly because the turkey can produce protein at a lower cost ratio than most other animals, partly because the American consumer is turning away from red meats to fish and fowl, and partly because the marketing of parts has made the turkey a bird for all seasons.