Free-range egg production climbed again to a record high in the second quarter, leaving the market floundering as it entered the summer period.

According to the latest data from Defra, UK output of free-range eggs climbed for the fourth quarter in a row to reach 355,000 cases a week (see chart).

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This was an increase of 48,000 on the same quarter of last year, amounting to over 15%.

To help keep trade balanced, colony egg production has been rowing back sharply, dropping by 24,000 cases/week year-on-year to 222,000 cases/week.

Also plunging over the past year is barn output, according to Defra, by 8,000 cases/week to 10,000 cases/week, a fall of 44%.

Completing the picture, organic was up 3,000 cases/week to 24,000 cases/week.

Overall, UK output from all systems rose by an average of 18,000 cases/week from the second quarter of 2020 to this year.

This has proved enough to create a significant surplus, along with a severe structural imbalance, with more free-range coming forward than the market is looking for.

Although the market is moving in the direction of free-range, the industry has been moving faster still.

‘Dire Market

The result, says Andy Crossland at the Central Egg Agency, is a market that is “dire”.

“There’s far too much free-range about, and with retail sales very average, a lot of packer-to-packer egg is available which is not getting sold as free-range.

“So, it’s impacting on the colony market and depressing their prices as well.”

“If colony was left to its own devices, it would prosper, but we find that any surplus medium free-range is now being sold at colony prices because there’s no market for it as free-range.”

New production

He noted there was a lot of large free-range eggs around as well, but these were being bumped into medium packs leaving an even greater surplus of mediums.

“There are far too many people involved in new free-range production,” suggested Mr Crossland.

“We’ve still got new units going up all the time, even with the costs right now, with raw materials going through the roof.

“We’re seeing expansion from feed companies, building manufacturers, pullet rearers, without the packers’ involvement.”