Wholesale prices for free-range eggs have edged back up to last year’s historic highs this month as the shortage of free-range eggs begins to bite.

Expansion of the free-range flock has stalled in recent months, despite the rapid approach of next year’s deadline for the removal of colony eggs from supermarket shelves.

See also: Scotland proposes to ban colony cage egg production

As a result, free range prices at wholesale have gained around 5p a dozen during the past month, while colony prices have gone the other way.

Andy Crossland at the Central Egg Agency said that the retail trade, which is dominated by free-range sales, remained busy and very short; while wholesale, where colony supplies are significant, was a bit slower.

Sluggish planning approvals were hampering efforts to raise free-range output in readiness for next year’s switchover, he added.

Colony

“Producers would probably like to expand, but it is proving difficult. All the while, we’ve got colony units going out, and they are not being replaced quickly enough with free range or barn.

“Some will be converted to barn, but we don’t really know a number and it all depends on whether a retail contract will be offered.

“There’s still a lot up in the air at the moment. The next 2 or 3 years could be interesting.”

In the shorter term, the market looks set to remain tight following a drop in day-old pullet placings around the turn of the year.

Market tight

March is likely to mark a temporary peak in the laying flock before it slides back over the the coming months, possibly by almost a million birds.

However, laying bird numbers look set to bounce back around July in the wake of a 30% rise in chick placings in February (see chart).

Compared with February last year, this amounts to an additional 740,000 chicks.