Egg prices were trending downward in recent months but were rising again based on seasonal demand for Easter, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.
David Anderson, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension economist, Bryan-College Station, said the Consumer Price Index reported retail egg prices dropped from $4.82 per dozen to $4.21 per dozen between January and February. Prices continued to fall into early March, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported wholesale egg prices were making their annual climb with Easter approaching.
Egg demand historically peaks each year with traditions related to Easter like egg hunts and baking for holiday meals, and prices typically follow, Anderson said.
“We were seeing prices come down, I think, due in part to production levels improving and some reduced consumer demand because of high prices,” he said. “But recent price trends are likely related to that buildup to the Easter holiday.”
Avian influenza timeline
Egg prices over the past year have been an historically high. The number of table egg-laying hens has generally declined over the last few years due to high production costs, including feed and low egg prices.
But since February of 2022, a highly pathogenic avian influenza led to the loss of 58.6 million poultry birds in 47 states, including more than 43 million laying hens.
The disease is believed to hit table egg-laying poultry flocks more frequently because egg-laying hens are in production much longer than broiler chickens, which increases their risk of exposure to the pathogen. Egg-laying operations produce both table eggs and those for hatching, either in broiler production to provide meat in grocery stores and restaurants, or to replenish laying hen numbers. For instance, in April 2019, the U.S. layer flock consisted of 406 million hens, with 344 million hens producing eggs bound for table use.
There were 327 million hens producing table eggs in the U.S. flock in December 2021, and the average cost for a dozen eggs was $1.79.
Avian influenza outbreaks were reported in poultry operations in seven states by February 2022, and prices were $2.05 per dozen by March. By April, 23 million commercial poultry birds, including laying hens, broilers, ducks and turkeys, had been lost from production in dozens of states, including Texas. The first case in Texas was reported by a commercial quail producer.
Replacing egg layers takes time, and commercial egg producers continued to replace lost birds as outbreaks continued to pop up across the country. The table egg-laying flock climbed to 309 million by December 2022 and recently reached 313 million hens. But, that is still 12 million fewer than in March of last year.
Avian influenza continues to be a concern as it circulates through wild bird populations, but commercial operations are not reporting losses at previous levels due to increased biosecurity procedures.
The previous peak price occurred in September 2015 – $2.97 per dozen – and was also attributable to an avian influenza outbreak in which more than 50 million commercial birds, including layers, broilers, turkeys and other poultry, were lost.
Market factors could lead to lower egg prices
Anderson said consumers should expect egg prices to fall after the Easter demand subsides. Supply and demand trends as well as expected feed cost declines in the future should fuel lower egg prices.
Egg producers are reporting fewer losses from the outbreak, so the table egg-laying flock should continue its return to normal levels, he said. If consumers continue to buy fewer eggs because of high prices, the increased supplies should cause the price for a dozen eggs to trend down.
Another factor that could weigh into future egg prices will be the expectation that the price of grains used in animal feed could decrease. Feed prices were exceptionally high over the past year like many agriculture necessities, including fertilizer, in response to multiple economic factors, from inflation to the war in Ukraine.
Anderson said the USDA prospective planting reports for corn was 92 million acres, and that good yields would be a positive signal for lower feed prices and livestock production.
“I think egg prices, the flock losses and recovery are a good representation of how long it can take to see the supply and demand side of agriculture to play out,” he said. “We’ve seen that happen with drought and other calamities, natural and manmade, but an egg growing into a layer that produces more eggs to become more egg layers, that’s not an overnight thing.”
By Adam Russell with AgriLife Today.
Photo: Egg prices were going down before Easter holiday demand led to an upward trend. Prices should begin going down after the holiday. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Michael Miller)