Moroni Feed Co. will have sent a record 5 million turkeys through its processing plant when the harvest ends a few days before Christmas.

And those 5 million turkeys translate into 75 million pounds of turkey meat - another record.Most of the 75 million pounds will go to the market as whole carcasses. The "heavies" - turkeys weighing more than 28 pounds - are likely to be purchased by the hotel and restaurant trade. The "lights" - birds weighing 28 pounds and under - are likely to be bought by consumers.

About 20 million pounds of the total will be further processed into items like roasts, hams, wiener, bologna and a half-dozen other products for the supermarket shopper.

"The turkey is no longer a holiday bird," according to Joe Nielsen, Moroni Feed Co. general manager. "We're working toward year-round production and a year-round market. The turkey industry has become highly competitive and we must make the most efficient use possible of our facilities."

While the last of this year's crop is going to the processing plant, the first of next year's crop will be going into the brooder coops.

The poults will come from eggs produced at Moroni Feed's breeder farms in Washington, Juab, Sanpete and Sevier counties. They will be hatched in the company's hatchery, fed on mash produced by the company's feed mill and will - in their turn - be delivered to the processing plant beginning in March.

"Moroni Feed is an integrated operation, we have to be efficient to stay alive," Nielsen says.

Production costs this year are around 65 cents to 67 cents a pound, Nielsen said. That's a couple of cents less than last year. And what about prices?

The "heavies" have held steady at around 78 cents a pound throughout the marketing season, said Nielsen. But the "lights" have been a cause for concern. For several months they were going at around 55 cents a pound, 10 cents to 12 cents below the cost of production. But the price of the "lights" has recently strengthened to about the same as the "heavies."

That doesn't mean, Nielsen points about, that the growers will get that kind of money for their birds. Other costs, like marketing, have to be taken into account.

For Moroni Feed's 85 growers, the turkeys go into a pool, so that each grower receives the same return for the same grade of bird. That evens out the market swings.

But profits depend on several other factors, like good or poor management, weather, disease, even overhead airplanes that spook a flock.

But Nielsen believes most of the growers will turn a fair profit in contrast to last year, a very marginal or even losing season for some of them.

Nielsen says that Moroni Feed's goal next year is another 5 million turkeys. But he hopes that national production will be down because an oversupply in the market is keeping prices at near the break-even point.

And he's optimistic about the future of the industry. "You have to be optimistic to stay in it," he says. One reason for his optimism is the increasing per-capita consumption of turkey products. A second reason is because the American diet is turning more to fowl and fish and away from red meat. And a third is the turkey itself as an efficient mechanism for turning feed into protein.

One uncertainty looms over the entire industry: Will the growers be able to obtain financing? This year Moroni Feed has provided financing out of its own reserves for almost a tenth of its 5 million production.