Egg prices continue to set all-time per-dozen price records, and a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert does not expect that trend to reverse in the near future.
David Anderson, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension economist, Bryan-College Station, said inflationary pressure and the worst avian flu outbreak in U.S. history have combined to send egg prices upward over much of the last year.
For a year-to-year comparison, prices reached $4.25 per dozen on average in December 2022 across the nation, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture retail egg report. A dozen eggs was $1.79 at the same time last year.
The previous peak price occurred in September 2015 – $2.97 per dozen – and was also attributable to an avian influenza outbreak.
Anderson said he has been inundated with media requests on the subject as the topic of egg prices has become a major talking point among the consuming public.
“One reporter in Houston interviewed a backyard producer who told them this is the first time ever that it’s been cheaper to produce eggs than buy them at the store,” he said. “The situation with egg prices is something people are following now, but I think it is also something that happened over the course of time with several factors aligning.”
Avian flu driving egg prices upward
Higher production and logistical costs like feed and fuel have contributed, but the top factor driving egg prices to record highs is an ongoing outbreak of avian influenza, Anderson said. The highly pathogenic viral disease hit the U.S. poultry industry in early 2022 and cases continue to pop up at poultry farms nationwide.
The USDA-Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, USDA-APHIS, reported almost 58 million commercial poultry birds, including broiler and egg-laying chickens, turkeys and various fowl have been lost to the virus, now reported in 46 states.
The USDA estimated around 43 million egg-laying hens were cut from the U.S. flock through December. The disease hits egg-laying chicken flocks harder because birds are in production much longer than broiler chickens, which increases their risk of exposure to the pathogen.
The losses resulted in U.S. egg inventories that were 29% lower than January 2022, according to the report.
Anderson said the avian flu struck at a time when egg layer numbers had already been reduced.
There were 340 million table egg layer hens in the U.S. flock in December 2019. By December 2020, table layer numbers had been reduced by 13 million hens, to 327 million, as egg production responded to the COVID-19 pandemic and higher feed costs. The number of table layers remained static through December 2021, and then the avian influenza outbreak dropped the number of hens below 300 million by June.
Profit incentive has pushed poultry producers to restore flock numbers amid the outbreak, but egg-producing operations continue to be hit by the disease. USDA-APHIS disease control and containment protocol calls for euthanization and disposal of all birds in a house exposed to the disease.
“We’ve seen producers respond by building back the flock numbers, but farms are still getting wiped out,” he said. “They were up to 308 million by December 2022, but it’s two steps forward, one step back.”
Egg demand peaks around Easter
Wholesale prices continue to rise, which indicates retail egg prices have not peaked, he said. The teetering flock numbers couldn’t come at a worse time for consumers.
The January USDA egg report showed prices were steady to slightly lower than December, but yearly prices for eggs often peaks each spring due to Easter holiday egg hunts and baking, he said.
“We have a built-in holiday-driven demand for table eggs,” he said. “That demand bump is on the horizon, but the higher prices are also a signal to consumers to use less, so it will be interesting to see if there will be a demand adjustment this Easter.”
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
The district needed moisture as extreme dry and windy conditions persisted. Soil moisture was very short. Lake levels were getting critical and aquifer levels needed replenishing. Rangeland and pasture conditions remained very poor with limited winter grazing available. Livestock were receiving heavy amounts of hay amid a bale shortage. Some producers were treating prickly pears so cattle could eat them. The Christmastime cold spell took a toll on the oat crop. Pecan producers were expecting many tree losses in orchards where irrigation water ran short.
A small amount of spotty moisture was received. High winds and blowing sand took its toll in some wheat fields. Wheat looked good in some areas but showed some freeze damage. Grazing and hay was in short supply, though some grasses and weeds were starting to green up. Some freeze damage to wheat leaves. Stocker cattle were being placed on wheat. Cattle were in poor to fair shape, and herds were culled.
Some areas received rain while others only got a drizzle. Areas that received rain reported saturated soil and pastures holding water. Fieldwork started to pick up in drier fields. Some weed spraying was being done by planes. Producers were receiving corn seed and preparing planters. No ground for rice production had been worked yet. Livestock were doing well, and producers were feeding hay and protein. Cattle prices were up compared to last year.
Conditions across the district worsened. Temperatures were warmer than normal. The lack of rainfall stunted growth in winter grasses. Livestock were in fair condition with supplementation taking place, but producers were struggling to stretch hay and supplement supplies. Water levels in lakes, ponds and creeks were declining.
High winds and above-average temperatures depleted the little moisture received a few months ago. Wheat started to show stress and daily declines. Fieldwork was beginning on irrigated fields with decent soil moisture. Most fields were being left alone to let the residue from last season’s hay grazer and grain sorghum keep the soil from blowing. Rain was needed everywhere to improve rangeland and soil moisture conditions. Livestock were in poor to fair condition. Cotton gin numbers were 15% of a normal year.
Dry conditions continued across the district. Soil moisture levels were very short to short. Significant moisture was needed to help with spring planting. Rangeland and pasture conditions were very poor to poor. Cattle were in good condition with supplemental feeding. A few producers were grazing cattle on early planted wheat. Later-planted wheat was not tall enough for grazing.
Soil moisture was mostly short to adequate across the district with some counties reporting very short conditions. Temperatures were unseasonably warm. Wheat was in poor condition but appeared to be hanging on. Some preparation for spring planting began. Pecan producers expected a large number of tree losses in orchards where irrigation water was short. Supplemental feeding of livestock continued. Stocker cattle were being turned out on wheat. Some producers reported an outbreak of armyworms.
Extremely dry conditions continued. Daytime temperature highs were in the mid- to upper-60s, and lows were in the mid-20s. Less than half an inch of rainfall was reported. Warmer temperatures were leading to concerns about vernalization issues in small grains. Ryegrass continued to recover from a hard freeze earlier this winter. Pasture conditions remained very poor with limited winter grazing. Cattle remained in decent body condition with producers feeding hay and other supplements. Hay was scarce and difficult to find for some producers. The cattle market was down. Feral hog control was taking place.
Temperatures were cooler with a frost at the beginning of the week. Winter pastures were not looking good after severe cold weather. The wheat crop was beginning to grow, and farmers were preparing fields for planting. A lot of producers started preparing gardens and planting onions. Livestock were in fair to good condition with supplemental feeding taking place. Spring calving started.
Drought conditions persisted. One county reported trace amounts of rainfall. Temperatures were unusually warm. A few gardeners were preparing to plant. Creek levels were low or dry. Rangeland conditions were very poor to excellent, but conditions were declining in most areas. Deer body conditions were declining. Irrigated winter wheat and oats looked good, and some fields were providing grazing. Producers were feeding livestock, but feed prices were high and culling continued. One local cattle sale reported good numbers with a steady market, while another reported large numbers for sale and steady to weaker prices. A case of avian influenza was confirmed in a backyard flock of mixed poultry. While no other cases have been found, monitoring continued in the area.
Dry windy conditions continued. Soil moisture conditions remained dry. Rangeland and pasture conditions remained mostly dry and brown. Pastures were still recovering from freeze damage in December, but grasses were returning. Row crop fields were beginning to be tilled in preparation for the growing season. Rainfall in the forecast was expected to improve soil moisture conditions. Livestock conditions remained good. Supplemental feeding occurred in most areas due to lack of available forage.
Weather conditions were dry with cooler temperatures and daytime high temperatures in the mid-80s. Northern and western parts of the district were very short on soil moisture while eastern areas were very short to short. Southern parts of the district reported adequate soil moisture levels. A freeze caused winter burn in rangelands and pastures, and available grazing was minimal. Some producers reported good ryegrass and oat growth for grazing. Supplemental feed was necessary for livestock. Feed prices remained high, and hay prices were increasing due to demand. Livestock were in good condition. Producers were preparing fields for spring planting, while a few in areas with soil moisture were planting early. Spinach fields were being planted and harvested. Citrus, sugarcane and cool-season vegetables were being harvested. Some acres of fall corn were being harvested as well. The amount of dead, dry plant materials in fields and pastures raised wildfire concerns.