Operations at the Moroni Feed Co. are resuming with baby birds being placed in the 60 farms that are part of the Sanpete County turkey cooperative.

Farmers quit raising baby birds and the cooperative's processing plant closed in November due to oversupply of turkeys and the high cost of fuel and feed. But the processing plant will reopen sometime around March 16.

By the end of 2009, the Moroni Feed Co., which sells its turkeys under the Norbest brand, will produce about 22 percent fewer pounds of turkey compared to last year. In 2009, the company projects it will produce 78 million pounds of turkey, as compared to 95 million in 2008, said Kent Christensen, a Moroni Feed Co. manager who has tracked the numbers.

The reason for the fewer turkeys is because operations were suspended, said George Dyches, processing division manager for Moroni Feed. The price of feed has fluctuated wildly over the past year. A turkey's diet is about 60 percent corn and 24 percent soy. Many corn fields have been converted to the type of corn used for ethanol fuel. Soy prices rose in part because hedge fund managers began buying up futures of grains in the past two years. Add to that decreased consumer demand and the increased price of fuel to transport the birds, and turkey farmers throughout the country began selling birds at a loss.

In July, the Sanpete farmers decided to finish raising the turkeys through Thanksgiving but not raise any new baby turkeys through the beginning of December. The processing plant where the turkeys are slaughtered closed Nov. 21, Dyches said, and the only turkeys available for Christmas from Moroni Feed Co. were frozen from Thanksgiving, with no fresh turkeys available.

At the beginning of December, some farmers began receiving baby turkeys, called poults, Dyches said. About half of the farmers have received poults so far.

The processing plant's shutdown resulted in about 400 of Moroni Feed's 675 employees being laid off.

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"We will hire somewhere around 420 to staff our processing plant," said Dyches, who said he was nervous about finding that many employees. Some of the former employees left Sanpete County to find work elsewhere.

Typically, farmers and the plant employees work year-round, Dyches said.

"I think there was an overproduction that occurred in the previous year (2007) and carried into last year," Dyches said. "We'll start our processing in March and it will go through December and we hope to continue from that point on."

E-mail: lhancock@desnews.com