While the egg trade struggles against a tide of surplus production, future bird numbers have continued to rise during the first five months of the year.

Day-old pullet placings during May climbed to their highest level since last October, at 825,000/week.

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In theory, the laying flock is currently at its low point for the year, as older birds leave the flock from a time when placings were even higher.

However, layer numbers are set to rise again as we move through summer into autumn.

Against this backdrop, wholesale prices have given way again as the market enters one of its traditionally weakest times of the year.

Wholesale prices have fallen by another 12-15p/doz for the top two sizes for both colony and free-range and 5-7p/doz for the smaller eggs.

Packers have been making efforts to depopulate birds to stabilise the market.

But most of the flocks over which they have direct control are in colony units, whereas the surpluses primarily come from the free-range sector.

The plunging free-range price reflects a situation where there is no natural outlet for free-range eggs surplus to retail needs, according to Andy Crossland at the CEA.

“We do seem to be overproducing free-range,” he said. “Retail sales have been average, and consequently, most packers have had free-range surpluses.

“Free-range is turning up in wholesale markets at colony prices to be sold as colony. It’s also turning up in processing.

Price difference

“The processors are very full of free-range egg and their price between colony and free-range is getting smaller and smaller.”

With free-range being from predominantly contracted producers, the packers were unable to manage that side of things effectively, he added.