UK Egg production in 2023 was down for the second year running, to its lowest level for nine years.

Total packing station throughput from all systems fell by 39 million dozen to 830 m doz, or 4.5%, compared with 2022, according to full-year figures just released by Defra.

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Overall, after several years of difficult conditions, egg production last year was 119 m doz below its peak year of 949 m doz in 2019.

On a positive note, last year’s decline was at a slower rate than between 2021 and 2022, when UK egg output dropped by 74 m doz (7.8%) in response to the massive rise in costs following the invasion of Ukraine and the threat from AI.

Although the laying flock ultimately reached rock-bottom in March last year, since then the number of birds has been steadily recovering.

Turnaround

This turnaround can be traced through the course of the year. Egg output was down by 27 m doz in the first quarter, by 18 m doz in the second, by 5 m doz in the third, and then rose by 11 m doz in the final three months of the year (all compared with the same period a year earlier).

Behind the figures for total output, there is a more complex picture. The most notable was the substantial increase in barn egg production last year.

This was up by 48 m doz on the year before to 107 m doz, an increase of 81%. This followed a 42 m doz increase in 2022, and means that the barn egg flock has grown by more than five-fold in the last two years, in anticipation of the retailers’ move to non-cage systems.

Barn and colony

The increase in barn last year almost matched the drop in colony production of 50 m doz. Caged output has been falling for many years but the trend has accelerated since 2020.

One unexpected outcome of the profitability crisis has been the sudden dip in free-range production, against its long-term upward trajectory.

Combined output of free range and organic first slipped in 2022 (by 26 m doz), but fell even faster last year by 37 m doz to 529 m doz.

However, thanks to the rise in barn output, total non-cage production rose overall by 11m doz in 2024.

Market

Amidst these developments, the UK egg market has started the new year in reasonable shape. Wholesale prices have eased back since Christmas, but remain at historically high levels.

Andy Crossland at the CEA said it was more of a traditional start to the year. “Certainly nothing like last year when you couldn’t find an egg anywhere.”

“There’s always that week’s worth of (unsold) Christmas production that needs to get through the system, and it does take two or three weeks for it to get through and clear again.”

“Signs are now that retail is picking up and less egg is being offered into the market. Quite a few birds have gone out as well at this time of year, so it’s starting to tighten up.”