The highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) outbreak appears to have slowed in recent weeks, but U.S. egg inventories in the final week of December were 29% percent lower than at the beginning of the year due to the virus. At the end of December, more than 43 million egg-laying hens had been lost to the disease itself or to depopulation since the outbreak began in February 2022.
According to the USDA, losses were spread across two waves: from February to June (30.7 million hens) and from September to December (12.6 million hens).
Constrained supplies resulted in elevated wholesale egg prices throughout the year, especially since the HPAI recurrences in the fall further constrained egg inventories that had not recovered from the spring wave. Moreover, USDA said the latest outbreak wave came at a point when the industry seasonally adjusts the egg-laying flocks to meet the increasing demand for eggs associated with the winter holiday season.
As such, lower-than-usual shell egg inventories near the end of the year, combined with increased demand stemming from the holiday baking season, resulted in several successive weeks of record high egg prices. The average shell-egg price was 267% higher during the week leading up to Christmas than at the beginning of the year and 210% higher than the same time a year earlier.
“During the last week of 2022, inventory sizes started to rise, and prices fell. Going forward, wholesale prices are expected to decrease as the industry moves past the holiday season and continues rebuilding its egg-laying flocks,” USDA noted.