Senate Majority Whip Leonard Blackham says Utah's turkey industry is hurting and deserves the $100,000 it got in the last hours of the Legislature.
He should know. The Moroni Republican is a turkey farmer and pushed through the appropriation for a "poultry specialist.""The need is that the industry needs some help," Blackham said. "This is an industry that is struggling to survive."
The funding was buried in a wrap-up piece of budget legislation that funded more than 100 pet projects.
The money for the specialist will be put in Utah State University's budget and will pay for an expert to reside in Sanpete County as part of USU's extension program.
The appropriation came out of the blue for USU administrators.
Rodney Brown, USU dean of agriculture, said Blackham, one of about 100 turkey farmers in Utah, called the day before the session ended and asked him if he could deliver a turkey specialist.
"He just called and said, `Would you guys be willing to put a person down there if you got the money?' " Brown said. "I said, `Sure.' "
Brown and Blackham said Utah's estimated $50 million turkey-raising industry needs a competitive boost.
Out-of-state competition, Blackham said, is forcing the state's turkey farmers to sell turkeys for 7 cents per pound less than it costs to raise the surly birds.
So how does a Utah turkey farmer make any money?
"We aren't," said Blackham. "That's the point."
USU already has a turkey specialist affiliated with Snow College, but the new person will focus specifically on production efficiencies, like feeding practices and light control.
Brown said the cost of raising the birds varies as much as 10 percent from farmer to farmer.
"It shouldn't be that much, so there is a lot of good that can be done in a hurry," he said.