Cumbrian farmers see egg prices rise as new law bites
Last updated at 15:37, Friday, 16 March 2012
“This is going back in time 50 years,” says Alan Burne standing among his hens now running loose in a wooden shed.
For half a century he has run a poultry farm producing eggs from hens kept in cages at Bonnie Mount, Eden Hall.
The cages were banned by the European Union from January to be replaced with bigger cages that included a perch.
Mr Burne had already reduced his hen numbers from a 30,000 peak after his son opened a scrapyard on the site and the family started a sand quarry. The cage ban prompted the sale of his remaining 8,000 hens in January.
Many other UK farmers left the industry at the same time, transforming the market place. Last year, a glut of eggs sent prices tumbling but a major shortage has been driving prices back up in recent weeks.
Mr Burne said: “Last year was the worst I’ve known for egg production financially. I was losing £2,500 a month because egg prices were so low.”
The farm once produced 20,000 eggs a day, many of which were sold by Alan to small shops and businesses across the county.
He added: “A lot of the little shops and milkmen I sold to disappeared as the supermarkets took over selling eggs. Now, it is near impossible to sell a lot of eggs yourself.”
He plans to run a loose flock of 2,000 birds in one of the sheds and sell eggs from the farm gate.
“In the past, people would jump back in when the price went up,” he added. “But many of the old hen houses are gone and the enriched cages cost too much.”
Cakes could temporarily disappear from supermarket shelves in the coming months as the egg crisis deepens, according to David Brass, who runs the Lakes Free Range Egg Company near Penrith.
The packing and distribution firm has 50 farmer suppliers and sells 500,000 eggs a week to national supermarkets and fast food chains.
Mr Brass said: “We were losing five-figure sums each month last summer, there were times we were getting 8p a dozen for the imperfect eggs. We were losing a fortune.
“Some people kept their sheds empty for a month or two. In 20 years of egg production, I’ve never seen such a turnaround in price.
“I’m getting calls every day from companies looking for eggs. I think it is partly because everyone expected illegal eggs to come in from Europe after the cage ban but that has not happened.”
Retailers will soon increase shelf prices and many producers have yet to feel the benefits of the shortage according to Mr Brass who plans to increase his producer price by eight or nine per cent next month.
“The market is so short of eggs, people are ringing around offering stupid prices,” he added. “Price rises will happen very quickly in the shops because there will be a shortage of eggs.”
He does not plan to take on any new producers, fearing that the market place could soon switch back to a glut.
First published at 14:10, Friday, 16 March 2012
Published by http://www.cumberlandnews.co.uk
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