The shrinking of the UK laying flock has continued into the first quarter of this year, but in more encouraging news, prices paid by packers finally began to make some headway in producers’ favour.
Output from UK packing stations reached a new low between January-March, averaging 15.5 million dozen per week during the quarter.
According to the latest Defra figures, this was down a further 200,000 doz/wk on the previous quarter of Oct-Dec 2022.
However, the data shows that the output of non-colony eggs (barn, free range, organic) had already started to recover by this time and rose by 450,000 doz/wk compared with the previous two quarters, to 12.2 million doz/wk.
The continuing fall away in colony production dragged down the overall total, with production dropping by 640,000 doz/wk compared with Oct-Dec last year, to 3.3 m doz/wk.
Colony production in the first quarter was down by 2m doz/wk compared with the same period last year, while non-colony is down by just 100,000 doz/wk.
Meanwhile, prices paid to producers have been gradually improving over the past 12 months but showed their most significant rise in the latest quarter, by 21p/doz between Oct-Dec and Jan-Mar, to 138p/doz (free range).
The overall increase since the first quarter of last year is now 40p/doz.
Signs that producers are starting to respond to the more favourable prices also emerged during the first quarter.
Day-old pullet placings began to stabilise and then head upwards in October, and this recovery has continued into this year.
Those extra birds are now starting to appear in the laying flock. By August, projections of placings indicate that the laying hen flock will have risen by around a million birds from the likely low point in March.
In the wholesale market, trading prices remain inflated as acute shortages persist.
There were no changes in price at the Central Egg Agency, whose Andy Crossland said: “It remains very tight. Availability is non-existent.
“We are waiting to see what May brings, there may well be a bit more egg around, and we’ve moved a few smalls during the last week or two.
“There’s a lot of imports coming through on the wholesale market, which there’s going to have to be, because there’s not the UK stuff around, which is helping a little bit.”