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Avian influenza hopping away with U.S. egg supply this Easter

Due to the rapidly rising numbers of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), consumers may be looking at a shortage of eggs this Easter. Egg production has not fully recovered from disruptions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, and while the supply has stabilized, it is still well below pre-pandemic numbers.

“U.S. egg producers have been hard-pressed to align supplies with market demand over the last two years,” says Brian Earnest, lead animal protein economist with CoBank Knowledge Exchange. “The U.S. layer flock typically expands ahead of the surge in demand for Easter and contracts during the summer months. But recent losses due to HPAI combined with high feed costs and other challenges are severely limiting flock size management.”

U.S. egg layer flocks had previously expanded faster than anticipated target growth in 2019, but have declined more than 5% in years since, stemming from a shift in consumer behavior in 2020. Despite grocery demand, egg producers were not set up to shift their distribution patterns, according to a new research brief from CoBank.

More than 11 million layer hens have been lost to HPAI since the outbreak that started on February 8, with individual operations losing up to 5.3 million birds.

The USDA AMS Weekly Shell Egg Demand Indicator reports five days of inventory on hand, which puts the United States egg inventory at a light to moderate amount of eggs. The report also states, “Wholesale prices for cartoned eggs continue to rise over concerns about the potential impact of avian influenza on supply ahead of Easter.”

With an expected continuation in the reduction of layer flocks, supplies may not be able to accommodate the consumer demand for eggs, especially at regional levels, according to the brief, and consumers may be expected to absorb the increase in cost. 

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