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Turkey, egg industries grappling with HPAI

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images turkeys
More than 5.6 million birds have been affected just in September.

Nearly 300,000 more turkeys are being depopulated after highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) was confirmed in operations in Utah, North Dakota and South Dakota over the past week. Numerous reports suggest the growing number of cases will cause further increases in turkey prices ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.

As an update to his research work completed in August, Brian Earnest, lead protein industry analyst at CoBank, reported to Feedstuffs that cases have continued since the culmination of the spring migration. In fact, he said more than 5.6 million birds have been affected just in September. This is a key difference from the last time HPAI impacted U.S. poultry, as cases dissipated in June during the 2014-15 outbreak, he explained.

Turkey industry struggling to keep up

Earnest said the turkey industry is struggling to keep up. Leading into 2022, he said market forces were telling producers to shift their focus to whole birds for Thanksgiving and to forego some further processing (think less deli meat). Now, however, HPAI and higher feed costs have exacerbated the “large bird” supply crunch, providing even more disincentive to grow out large toms.

“Prices are record high, but traded volume is insignificant because there just isn’t anything available.”

Egg industry hamstrung

Significant supply chain pressure occurred as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing egg producers to transition production away from food service to retail nearly overnight. This was a massive undertaking. Now, 35 million layers been depopulated as a result of HPAI. The most recent USDA weekly egg inventory report showed there were 23% fewer eggs on hand than last year for the week ended September 26.

“With food outlets preparing for the holiday baking season, the industry is hamstrung leading into a period of increased demand,” Earnest said.

Meanwhile, demand for protein has been extraordinary. Prior to the HPAI outbreaks, the industry had been on a prolonged building phase. Even with the 35 million layers depopulated, there are still 30 million more layers for egg production now than there were during 2015’s lows. Also, the current flock is much more productive, with each layer producing about 1.5 extra eggs per month (on average) compared to 2015, Earnest noted. Despite these factors, egg prices have still risen substantially through this year’s HPAI event, even eclipsing the highs of 2015.

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