You’re about to start paying less for eggs at the grocery store because egg farms are recovering from last year’s bird flu outbreak a bit faster than expected.
The major disease outbreak took the lives of nearly 50 million chickens and turkeys last spring and summer, causing a hiccup in egg production that sent prices upward. But the number of hens nationally is now approaching pre-flu levels, and costs on the farm such as diesel fuel are holding low.
“We’re expecting a recovery more quickly than we initially anticipated,” said economist Annemarie Kuhns with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Egg prices spiked in the wake of avian flu, but Kuhns says USDA now expects retail egg prices to fall 9 to 10 percent this year compared to the average 2015 price.
Kuhns says egg prices can be more volatile than foods like bread that make more stops between the farm and the consumer. More stops means more places where a company can try to insulate the consumer from fluctuations. Still, many grocery stores did try to protect shoppers from drastically higher prices last summer.
“At this time, the egg market appears to have recovered from last summer’s avian flu outbreak,” Tina Pottoff, a spokeswoman for grocery chain Hy-Vee said in an email Friday. “Due to increased supply, prices have slightly decreased in recent weeks.”
Hy-Vee, based in West Des Moines, Iowa, has stores in eight Midwestern states and Pottoff cautioned that each store sets its own egg prices.
Maro Ibarburu-Blanc, an economist with the Egg Industry Center added that the egg supply has been impacted by increased imports during the flu outbreak, which have not completely returned to pre-flu levels.
“The U.S. is still importing a lot of eggs and exporting less eggs when compared to previous years,” Ibarburu-Blanc wrote in an email. He says domestic production this year is still lower than last year, but those added imports, coupled with diminished exports, have created a bigger supply than expected. He says the retail price for April is the lowest April price in 10 years.
“The future will depend on how the domestic demand reacts,” he said, “and the future trade balance (exports and imports).”
According to the most recent USDA report on eggs, the nation’s flock of laying hens is now 361 million, compared to 366 million a year ago, before the outbreak of disease.