By Leah Douglas
ARLINGTON, Va. (Reuters) – Having lingered near record highs for months, egg prices will fall dramatically this year provided the United States does not see a rebound in outbreaks of bird flu, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said on Thursday.
The price drop would be a welcome relief to shoppers who have paid much more for eggs in recent months than ever before. The price of a dozen eggs was up 150% in January from a year prior, to $4.80 a dozen, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In 2023, wholesale egg prices will fall 26.8%, USDA Chief Economist Seth Meyer said in a presentation at the annual USDA Agricultural Outlook Forum in Virginia on Thursday.
The agency has attributed high egg prices to historic outbreaks of avian flu, which have killed more than 58 million backyard and commercial chickens and turkeys since February 2022.
Egg production will increase 4% this year to 9.4 billion dozen, the agency said, and the number of egg-laying chickens will rebound.
“While not quite there yet, a full recovery in the laying flock is expected,” USDA said in its livestock and poultry forecast.
Meyer noted that his projection assumes that there will not be continued avian flu outbreaks.
Experts have noted that the virus has become endemic in some species of wild birds that transmit it to poultry, making bird flu potentially a year-round problem rather than a seasonal outbreak.
On Tuesday, USDA reported an outbreak at a commercial broiler chicken farm in Pennsylvania with almost 100,000 birds.
Farmers have raised concerns that the hike in egg prices could at least in part be due to corporate price-gouging rather than just avian flu. Last week, two lawmakers sent letters to the nation’s top five egg companies seeking information on why their prices have gone up.
(Reporting by Leah Douglas; Additional reporting by Tom Polansek in Chicago; Editing by Bill Berkrot)