By Stan Maddux
Demand for eggs is always higher leading up to Easter but consumers were not cracking up over prices that have more than doubled over the last few weeks.
Experts place most of the blame for soaring prices on loss of production and other factors related to the largest outbreak of Avian Flu in the nation since 2015.
According to USDA, about 24 million birds on farms where infections were confirmed nationwide have been euthanized and a good percentage of them were layers. The latest USDA egg production forecast for 2022 has table egg production down from last year by 2.5 percent.
Egg exports for the year are predicted to fall by 29.4 percent to 277 million dozen.
Imports are expected to rise by more than 166 percent to 48.5 million dozen shell eggs.
USDA is also forecasting wholesale egg prices for New York, Grade-A, Large to be $1.57 higher per dozen or 32.5 percent higher than the previous year. The weekly average price for large eggs had risen from $1.40 per dozen in early March to more than $3 per dozen a month later, according to USDA.
Other contributing factors in the skyrocketing prices were inflation and rising demand for eggs leading up to Easter.
Rebecca Joniskan, president of the Indiana State Poultry Association, said poultry farmers have also taken on extra expenses in the fight against avian flu since the last major outbreak. The costs include clean-up and restocking at infected farms.
Joniskan said all farms have invested in bio-security practices to protect against being infected again or for the first time.
“There’s a significant investment that goes on there to make sure you’re doing all of this bio-security and that you have the supplies and equipment available and the personnel trained to be able to react at a moment’s notice,” she said.
She said control zones have been lifted at the six turkey farms in southern Indiana where avian flu resulted in more than 100,000 birds euthanized.
Control zones were recently imposed around two farms in northern Indiana with a combined 10,600 ducks.
Joniskan said there are egg-producing farms within the new control zones, but they can still operate under restrictions and none have more than 30,000 chickens.
She said demand is also very high during holidays like Christmas, but Easter is when consumers want eggs the most. “It’s a difficult time period to also face a disease incident but we have many, many more producers outside the control areas that we do inside,” she said.
According to USDA, Indiana is the second-leading producer of eggs in the nation followed closely by Ohio. The top egg-producing state is Iowa.
“The market sets the prices, not the farmers,” said Allison Brink, Michigan Allied Poultry Industries executive director.
The fifth-leading egg producer is Michigan, which has pretty much escaped avian flu infection except for a handful of back yard flocks.
“Eggs are still the lowest cost protein available, and our farmers continue to practice the highest level of biosecurity to ensure the safety and well-being of their hens during the avian flu outbreak happening across the country,” Brink said.