Why Are Egg Prices So High?
“We are watching very closely to see how the disease associated with bird flu, when it hits humans, is evolving” – Sir David Nunes Nabarro.
If you’ve gone to the store lately, you’ve noticed that the price of eggs has either gone up or you may simply not be able to find eggs at all. We were recently at Costco and they only had pre-packaged egg white cartons. Our local grocery store had a dozen eggs for $8.50. They’re getting more expensive, so what’s going on? In this blog, we will explore what’s causing this problem, discuss if or when the price will get better, and the steps you can take right now to secure this food source. Let’s talk about it…
Egg prices have jumped an average of 49% in the past year, and are currently on a rather steep upward trajectory. Eighty cents per egg, maybe even higher, is possible before this gets any better. Last year, they were at about twenty-one cents per egg. Bird flu typically arrives during the spring migration and disappears by the summer, experts said. But this year was different; the virus reemerged in September. These elevating egg and poultry prices will last well into the second quarter of this year before there is a glimmer of hope that the outbreak is subsiding.
You might be asking, “why now?” Avian flu has been around for a while, and this particular strain was first reported in 1996. First, there is a particularly virulent strain of avian flu circling the world. In the US, bird flu viruses have been found in commercial and backyard poultry in at least 44 states and wild birds in 46 states that we know for sure. It’s everywhere. The world is going through its worst-ever outbreak of H5N1 bird flu. Depending upon where you live will depend on how extreme this current food supply disruption will be for you, but all will be affected. Modern agricultural practices, lack of genetic variation in poultry flocks, and even warmer weather affecting migratory birds’ time, distance traveled, and patterns have all contributed to this recent but steady building surge.
Poultry birds are particularly susceptible to H5N1 bird flu with a near-certain fatality rate. It kills 90-100% of chickens within 48 hours. Ducks and other wild fouls may recover but will continue to spread the virus through contact and manure. Fortunately for humans, there is very little chance of it jumping to humans. It can, mainly if you handle infected birds or their waste materials, but for us, it’s just a bad case of the flu and not a death sentence like it is for our feathered friends. One hundred forty million birds were culled last year in North America, Europe, and the UK, and the reported cases are currently surging to record numbers. If an industry can only remain by culling millions of animals, it will not survive at peak levels.
When an egg-laying flock is culled, some farmers lose their livelihood altogether, processors and distributors lose product and profits, supply decreases, and demand from panic buying increases and puts more pressure on the demand side of the supply and demand equation. Farmers are more reluctant to resume operations, having already absorbed massive losses, so supply struggles to recover to pre-H5N1 bird flu levels. All of that combines with the second part of the reason for the current shortage and high prices. The supply chain is out of whack. This creates buying limits, a doubling or more of cost, and product scarcity.
The third reason is that conditions were already ripe for an increase, partly from inflationary pressures and partly from rising production costs. The war between Russia and Ukraine has lowered and tightened feed grain production numbers, decreased supplies of fertilizer, grain hoarding, and low agricultural yields have all sent the costs of feed grain soaring. So, even as inflation was driving prices up, consumer demand was rising, production costs were rising, feed supply was tightening, and the sickness was spreading like it never had before. All the ingredients for an explosive rise in price were in place, as we alluded to in our video last year.
Beyond the price or scarcity of poultry or eggs, there’s a serious environmental challenge posed by H5N1. It is a very serious pandemic for all wild birds of all types. Wild birds, which we don’t monitor as closely as the birds in agricultural operations have been hit harder than ever. The current virus has affected at least 80 different bird species. In some cases, estimates of deaths amongst species populations are as high as 40%. The die-offs of wild birds are further increased by some of the dramatic shifts in weather we have seen in recent years. Warmer or colder weather encourages migratory birds to move, then a sudden storm front or cold snap can leave birds starving, emaciated, or dead from hypothermia. Significant multi-decade droughts also reduce water resources and fish and insect food sources. The wild bird die-off is the definition of what we call on this channel a polycrisis. Several storms combine to create a perfect storm of a problem.
For the implications of such a die-off in our recent world history, one needn’t look further than the Great Chinese Famine from 1959-1961. The Communist government implemented what it called the “Four Pests Campaign.” Citizens were called upon to destroy mosquitoes, rats, flies, and sparrows. I don’t know if they made any headway with mosquitos, rats, or flies, or even if they could, but the campaign did result in a documented mass eradication of the sparrows. Their reduced population increased the population of crop-eating insects, which had no significant predators without the sparrows. Crops were decimated, and tens of millions of people died of hunger.
Birds are pollinators and voracious consumers of pests, insects, and even rodents. Any significant decline in their population has an immediate reciprocal decrease in agricultural production. The rise of insects substantially damages crops, trees, and wild plants. If predatory birds are significantly impacted by H5N1, then we will also experience an explosion in the rodent population. More insects and rodents force farmers to use more potent pesticides and encourage everyday people to use stronger poisons that can travel up and down the ecological food chain. Birds are also significant wildflower and fruit pollinators and seed spreaders. Birds, especially seabirds, play a crucial role in cycling nutrients and helping to fertilize marine ecosystems such as coral reefs. From seed spreaders, pollinators, fertilizers, exterminators, and even sanitation workers processing dead animals, the overall importance of birds in the ecological system cannot be understated.
If H5N1 continues to spread in the wild population, we will be in store for more problems than the rising price of the per pound broiler or a dozen eggs. Large areas of the Earth will teeter on the edge of ecological collapse. We don’t want to alarm you, but even a 20% decline in the wild bird population will dramatically affect the environment. It has to get far worse than it is right now or even at this rising moment of H5N1 surge before we get to that point. There are an estimated 50 billion birds on the planet, so we will likely have thousands of more warning signs before 20% of them– 10 billion birds die off.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?
The average American eats 288 eggs or 24 dozen eggs per year. Americans consume 160 million servings of cheap, convenient chicken daily. Backyard farms can never keep pace with that level of consumption, but they also aren’t meant to. The backyard flock is a personal means of freeing oneself from dependence on commercial production sources. It may not be the total solution, but it is undoubtedly part of the more comprehensive solution. The CDC would suggest you stay safe from bird flu viruses by avoiding contact with birds. We will tell you the opposite of that. Raising your own chickens and pulling eggs every morning are fantastic ways to maintain a protein supply and further free yourself from the global supply chain. Some folks raise ducks, turkeys, geese, guinea fowl, quail, and pigeons are all raised for meat and eggs by many homesteaders and farmers. You are limited only by your level of commitment to your flock, space, and the local and state ordinances. Laws about keeping chickens vary by state, county, and town. Zoning regulations, building codes, lease restrictions, and Home Owner Associations further enhance the laws and bylaws of each area. Large entities like Sanderson Farm, the National Chicken Council, United Egg Producers, the National Turkey Federation, and others spend over 1.2 million annually partly to maintain their interests in corporate-produced poultry and eggs over your backyard flock.
Whether it’s chickens in a small coop in your backyard or quail, you can easily have eggs for breakfast any day of the week. To keep your home flock safe, keep them isolated from other animals. Don’t let them come into contact with wild birds or other animals that may have been in contact with wild birds. Keep their area well-cleaned. Have dedicated shoes or boots for your coop area to avoid spreading any viruses. Keep a clean, isolated coop and yard to prevent creating an inviting spot for rodents or wild birds to visit. At least right now, consider your home flock on a pandemic lockdown until conditions in the world improve.
For your part, to protect yourself from this recent outbreak, avoid contact with wild birds. Avoid petting zoos or even feeding the ducks at the lake for a while. The less they flock together, the better chance they have. If you have a bird feeder out and want to help the birds, regularly clean their area. The National Wildlife Health Center recommends cleaning bird baths and feeders with a solution of nine parts water to one part bleach. If there is visible debris, scrub it off. Consider planting sorghum, black seed sunflowers, berries, or wildflowers this spring in a wild patch of your yard. The birds will have greater access to food resources, with less need to congregate. Make sure these wild plants are away from your home a bit, as they will also attract rodents. If they do, don’t use poisons. These rodents will feed the birds of prey and snake population in your area.
When it comes to fighting higher prices, that window has closed for now. We expect poultry and egg prices to go up for the foreseeable future until we get ahead of the current H5N1 outbreak. You might stock up on packaged, liquid egg whites right now, as these have a long shelf life, and what you see in the stores now was packaged before this recent outbreak really took off. The packaged egg whites we bought yesterday are good if refrigerated for up to 6 months. If frozen, they are good for a year. Another option is freeze-dried eggs. Again, these were probably produced well before avian flu was even a thing because when appropriately stored and unopened, they have a shelf-life between one and two decades. A $10 can of freeze-dried eggs has gone up in price like everything else this last year, and it will go up even further, but it equates to a long shelf life for about 108 eggs worth per 48 ounces. One egg blend option, the price breaks down to about .53 cents per egg price. That already puts it as a cheaper option than fresh eggs, at least for the moment.
When it comes to chicken meat, we just paid $3.49 per pound for breast meat, and that was up to .30 cents a pound from what we paid just last week. Putting some canned meat options in your inventory would be a prudent choice. Canned chicken meat has a shelf-life of between 2 and 5 years. The price for canned chicken is also at the early stages of a dramatic price increase in the future, as the current outbreak impacts the existing supply. You can expect that people will start stocking up where they haven’t before, just like you might be planning to do after watching this video. This will increase demand and price and further erode inventory.
The final thing you can do is give up on poultry and eggs altogether. Many will have to do this because they are priced out of the market. Other binders can be used in cooking, and there are other protein sources and alternatives. If you feel that the high prices or shortages may impact you significantly now or in the future, research and explore these different options and alternatives.
We’ve got 2 blogs in our library: How to Raise Chickens in your Backyard and How to Build a Year’s Food Storage. These are both critical blogs for you to watch right now as we continue to assess this threat. What we see with H5N1 bird flu could just be the beginning of a much larger crisis. Various factors, including the outbreak of avian flu, supply issues, the cost of production, and food inflation, are causing the global egg shortage. Some farmers have also blamed retailers for not paying a fair price for eggs as production costs have increased. This current crisis is centered around the egg layers, but it could get larger in scope from here. The war in Ukraine and the resulting disruption to wheat production, a key ingredient in chicken feed, may also contribute to the shortage. Retailers worldwide will continue to impose restrictions on the number of eggs that customers can purchase, and the price of eggs and poultry will continue to rise.
By next year at this time, we might look back on the shortages, buying limits, and high prices as something we prefer over the circumstances we will find ourselves. We are still determining how bad this will get, but we know this may be one of your last opportunities to prepare for it. The best-case scenario is it passes, and supply chains and inventories are restored within a year. The worst-case scenario, well, let’s simply say that’s not an egg we want to crack here. What do you think? Is this current crisis affecting you, and what are you doing about it?
For now, heed our advice and prepare for the worst while hoping for the best. If you find yourself sitting on a heap of eggs and canned chicken this time next year and prices have dropped by then, you’ll have a critical protein source in your prepping supplies for future disasters. If you take that a step further and establish your own egg-laying backyard flock, you’ll save hundreds of dollars annually, at the very least. If this outbreak gets far worse from here, you will have eggs and protein, while many others will not. Whatever you choose, make your decisions and take your actions now.
As always, stay safe out there.