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Easter Comes Early

Is it Good News for the Egg Industry?

If you're struggling to remember what the “normal” price for a dozen eggs is, you’re not alone.  The egg market has been in a constant flux the last few years. The trend of unpredictability is the only thing remaining constant heading into Spring.

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Still an Issue

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) is still plaguing laying hens. Carried by migratory birds, it’s been hard to eradicate and has left every continent except Australia scrambling to keep up with egg demands. Last year in the US, it was the Midwest that got hit harder and later South America. This year, as birds migrate back north, it’s California that is most affected.

Farmers in California are reluctant to open barn doors and welcome Spring. Many are hoping to ride out the migration season by keeping more egg laying hens inside. If even a few birds in a barn are found to carry HPAI, the entire flock must be destroyed; a huge loss experienced by both commercial farms and backyard flocks across the nation. This is the reason for dramatic prices since many birds are lost quickly and millions more are at risk. Forty commercial farms and 24 backyard flocks have confirmed HPAI in California since the start of the year. 

Commercial Laying Farms vs Backyard Flocks

All totaled, between November 2023 and January 2024, 14 million laying hens were lost to the virus, an increase from last year when 12.3 million layers were lost between the months of September and December.  Fewer cases reported in February and March of this year is to be expected as the migration season is only just getting into swing. 

The situation presents unique challenges for companies committed to sourcing organic or cage free eggs. To achieve an organic label, hens must have access to the outdoors. But, access to the outdoors has the potential to put more layers in contact with migratory birds. Large farm operations and backyard farms alike express concern over these decisions.

Grocery Store Egg Prices

The logistics involved with sourcing, transporting and storing eggs are complex without the HPAI variable. With supply low again, and consumer demand spiking for the  Easter holiday, predicting inventory amounts is tricky. No grocer wants excessive waste but not all consumers will purchase eggs at an inflated price. 

If you’d like to dive deep into the egg data, Purdue University created a dashboard to show egg price changes and the relationship between different types of eggs.  

Eggs are typically bought by grocery stores 3-4 weeks before Easter in anticipation of the rising demand. Due to the low supply, which could shift from day to day with the virus still at large and moving, egg prices are expected to rise leading up to Easter.

The Upside of an Early Easter

The egg industry will feel some relief after the holiday. Easter falls earlier this year which could be helping some farms evade HPAI and take full advantage of the holiday demand. And, also have adequate time to bolster supplies. Spring is egg season. More sunlight, more eggs. A few extra Spring days without the burden of the holiday rush could support supply increase and bring the market back in balance. Egg prices will automatically drop after Easter and there is a good chance they will remain low and fairly predictably priced unless a large commercial barn is affected by HPAI.

What Makes a Stable Laying Hen Population?

Currently there is no magic formula to measure stability in the egg industry. The USDA has suggested that a minimum of 312 million layers would ensure adequate supply.  Some many economists and agricultural forecasters put the minimum at 320 layers to ensure a stable supply and market balance.

HPAI makes that a hard number to maintain. Imports from other countries could fill egg product supply gaps, but not table egg demands. Transporting and shelf life dynamics make importing less feasible.

Eggs have long been relied upon as an affordable protein source for low income communities. When egg production fell 15% it resulted in an almost 66% increase in the cost of eggs. These numbers have serious implications for food security in low income households. The unpredictable price points have started to push consumers towards other protein sources; a trend that might increase if the market stays volatile. 

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