Table egg layer numbers expected to continue lower into 2009

Only gradual increase is expected in 2009 as lower energy and feed prices provide incentive to expand.

Year-over-year table egg flock numbers have been lower for the last 22 months through November, although there was no change in year-over-year numbers on December 1 in percentage terms. The trend of fewer layer numbers is expected to continue into 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The number of birds in the table egg flock is expected to only gradually expand in 2009, as lower energy costs and feed prices provide producers some incentive to expand, according to the December Livestock, Dairy and Poultry report by USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS). But the incentives brought on by lower costs will be countered by expected lower demand for eggs.

With the decline in the number of birds in the table egg flock, table egg production has also declined, falling on a year-over-year basis for the last seven quarters. This lower table egg production has resulted in relatively strong prices on a historical basis, ERS says.

In the third quarter of 2008, wholesale prices in the New York market averaged nearly $1.15 per dozen, down about 3 cents from the previous quarter and nearly 5 cents lower than third-quarter 2007. Prices in the New York market were expected to average $1.19 to $1.22 per dozen in fourth-quarter 2008, ERS says. Prices in 2007 had been especially strong, reaching as high as $1.63 per dozen and averaging $1.41 per dozen in the fourth quarter.

Egg exports continue to be lower than the previous year. Over the first 10 months of 2008, egg exports have totaled 175.7 million dozen, down almost 35 million or 17% from the same period in 2007. Much of the decline is due to generally stronger domestic egg prices in 2008. Shipments of all shell eggs and egg products in October totaled 17.9 million dozen, down 13% from the previous year. Much of the decline in total egg exports is due to lower shipments to Mexico and Hong Kong.

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