IN a reversal of typical trends in January, wholesale egg prices strengthened significantly in the weeks after Christmas, especially on colony.

By the start of this month, wholesale colony prices were at their highest since the hectic market in 2020, during the early months of the first lockdown.

See also: Welsh rugby star Dan Lydiate recruiting organic layer farm manager

At the same time, the free-range trade has recovered its composure, with wholesale prices gaining a few pence since Christmas to stand at their highest level for about a year.

According to the Central Egg Agency, the better tone has been mainly supply-driven.

“It’s quite upbeat at the moment,” said CEA’s Andy Crossland. “The supply has gone right back.

Avian influenza

“Obviously, there’s been some gaps to fill with avian influenza and the number of birds we’ve lost.”

He said there wasn’t much colony available for the wholesale market, while the packer-to-packer trade was good for free-range.

“The last couple of weeks have been very strong on retail, and they’ve certainly tidied up the surplus free range that’s been knocking around,” said Mr Crossland.

Strengthening market

The market should continue to strengthen, he added.

“The Continent’s pretty tight as well. They’ve got their own problems with avian flu.

“I think we will see some imports over the lack of egg we’ve got, but they will be at a price, I’m sure.”

Supplies coming onto the market are likely to dwindle further in the months to come.

Recent cutbacks in day-old pullet placings mean that the number of birds in-lay looks set to fall by May to the lowest level for four years.

Quarterly figures

In another reversal of a long-term trend, the widening gap between colony and free-range production suddenly narrowed again in the last quarter of 2021, according to the latest Defra figures.

In the last three months of the year, the proportion of sales packed as free-range dropped from 64% to 61%, and colony rose from 31% to 33% (the balance is taken up by barn and organic output).

These figures reflect the troubled state of the egg market in the months before Christmas.

They record packing station data rather than production data and show the extent to which surplus free-range eggs were being channelled into intensive packs to help clear the surplus.