Low prices hard on small egg operations

Farm Forum

Brenda Bryant took over her family’s egg business, Seneca Egg Co., in 1993.

“When we first took over, egg prices were really low,” she said.

But from then to now, she’s never seen the prices as low as they were two months ago or as high as last year when the Avian bird flu threatened the supply, she said.

Last year, eggs were selling for more than $3 per dozen after the bird flu wiped out many larger operations.

Then, prices plummeted because too many eggs were shipped in, she said. Now they’ve just kind of leveled off, Bryant said.

This week, a dozen medium Sno White eggs were selling at an Aberdeen grocery store for 49 cents.

Those eggs are supplied by Seneca Egg Co.

The extreme dip in prices and the construction of larger plants threaten the “little” farmers, who Bryant said are becoming extinct.

Kristi Spitzer, who raises 150 laying hens in Leola, can understand how smaller operations are succumbing to larger ones and their cheaper wholesale prices.

“Really with the small numbers we have, it’s hard to compete,” she said.

It was those smaller, local operations that mostly carried egg production through the Avian crisis, Spitzer said.

Low egg prices in grocery stores have absolutely affected her sales, Spitzer said. Recently, Spitzer and another Leola chicken farmer, Christi Westphal, combined and modified their marketing plan in order to keep sales.

Now, KC Farms sells eggs the Aberdeen Downtown Farmers Market in Central Park each Thursday.

“We never had to use the farmers market as an avenue to sell our eggs before,” Spitzer said, “but with the prices bottoming out, some local customers are no longer interested in paying the extra.”

The duo goes to the farmers market in order to cater to customers who seek specific characteristics in the food they buy, she said. Many of those customers appreciate better quality, locally grown products and support small entrepreneurs, she said.

KC Farms’ eggs are either cage free or free range, which means the chickens are able to move around like they are supposed to, Spitzer said. The birds are “not made into a machine to produce eggs,” she said.

The eggs sold at the farmers market are never more than a week old, and some can be as fresh as the day prior, she said.

Additionally, Spitzer can tell a customer everything about the bird’s diet, which includes non-genetically modified organism corn, oats, oyster shells and occasionally natural whey protein.

“We’re very fussy about what we feed them,” she said.

Her broods’ diet might be changing. As another way to deal with competition, Spitzer is looking into adding flax to her feed. The flax increases omegas, which are good for heart health, she said.

“And there’s a market for those,” she said.

Plus, grocery stores sell those eggs around $4 per dozen, Spitzer said.

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