A seasonal return of the deadly avian flu is giving a lift to US egg prices in the midst of the key holiday baking season when supermarket egg sales ramp up.
Consumers and food manufacturers should expect wholesale egg prices to continue to rise into the first quarter of 2024, although prices are unlikely to reach the record highs seen this time last year, Gro predicts.
Helping to limit the price gains: Relatively dry weather this year in the Midwest’s big egg-producing counties, according to Gro’s Climate Risk Navigator for Agriculture, resulted in a sharp drop in the number of HPAI cases this summer and fall compared with last year. The virus, typically spread by migrating wild birds, thrives in wetter conditions, which increase contamination rates. (See chart below.)
This year’s first large culling of layer chickens took place in November, when more than 5 million birds were killed, especially in Iowa and Ohio, the two biggest egg-producing states. Last year, large cullings due to HPAI began in early spring, more than six months earlier.
Layers culled so far this season represent a small portion of the total US flock of over 389 million birds. However, it’s enough to start wholesale prices on the upswing.
Average wholesale egg prices peaked at $4.49 per dozen in December 2022 before dropping sharply in the spring, with avian flu seemingly at bay. This past September, prices averaged $1.22/doz and dipped below $1/doz in October. Now, wholesale prices are rising again, as a combination of holiday buying and the beginnings of a surge in HPAI have boosted table eggs back to $2.38/doz.
In 2022, HPAI transmissions surged during the US spring and fall wild bird migrations, and about 58 million animals from commercial poultry flocks were lost to the virus, squeezing egg production and putting sharp upward pressure on prices. The most severe HPAI outbreak was in 2015, with 50.5 million deaths in commercial flocks over a short, four-month time period.
The latest HPAI outbreak also is impacting US turkey flocks, with 2.5 million culled in the fourth quarter to date, especially in Minnesota. The virus had little impact on Thanksgiving celebrations, or prices, as producers prepare frozen turkeys long ahead of the holiday. However, there could be a small impact in some parts of the country on the availability of fresh turkeys during the Christmas holiday season.
Total precipitation over the past month has been below historical averages in most US egg-producing regions (represented by circles), which has helped to limit the spread of avian flu, or HPAI. On this map from Gro’s Climate Risk Navigator for Agriculture, red areas show below-average rainfall and blue is above average.