North Fork egg farms such as Ty Llwyd in Riverhead haven’t noticed a substantial increase in demand even though conventional egg prices are rising due to bird flu. (Credit: Chris Lisinski)
U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) implored Congress Sunday not to cut federal funding for research to combat avian influenza as the price of eggs continues to rise.
Outbreaks of bird flu have damaged the poultry industry, Mr. Schumer said in a press release Monday, noting the average price of eggs in New York City is almost 50 percent higher than it was at this point last year.
As part of the proposed federal budget, the government would scale back its allocation to the U.S. Department of Agriculture by $500 million.
“This funding can be used towards preventing the outbreak from spreading,” Mr. Schumer said. “I am urging Congress to give USDA the funds it needs before the egg shortage gets worse, and before grocery bills continue to rise.”
But despite rising prices elsewhere in the state, many North Fork farmers haven’t noticed a change in demand for their locally produced eggs.
“We have been selling out of eggs most days, but that’s fairly normal for this time of year,” said Elizabeth Wines, owner of Ty Llywd farm in Riverhead. “We’ve been busy, but I think it’s probably because of the summer season.”
At Browder’s Birds in Mattituck, owners Chris and Holly Browder both noted a similar situation: they sell so many eggs in the summer that it’s difficult to see whether there has been a true increase in demand.
“How it plays out in the fall and the winter will be interesting to see if the flu is a problem, but right now, we really haven’t seen a big difference,” Mr. Browder said.
Although both the Browders and Ms. Wines hadn’t noticed much change from individual consumers, they said they have received a handful of inquiries from businesses looking to cut down on rising egg costs.
“I had one baker call who bakes for a lot of farmers markets because she buys the liquid eggs that are already broken, and her price doubled overnight,” Ms. Browder said. “She wanted to revert to buying dozens of whole eggs from me, but at this point in the season, I’m already maxed out.”
More than 48 million birds have died so far from bird flu in the United States this year, either as a result of the disease itself or from being culled to prevent further infection, according to the USDA. Bird flu has been confirmed in 15 states, most of which are in the Midwest.
No state east of Indiana has a confirmed case of avian flu, but because the Midwest produces so many eggs, consumers around the country have felt the diseases’ effects on the market.
“When the cost of eggs skyrockets, we all feel it in our wallets because, unlike other foods, most egg substitutes use egg ingredients,” Mr. Schumer said in his release.
In the New York region, the wholesale price for eggs — what businesses pay — was about 30 percent higher this May than in May 2014, according to a Tuesday report from the USDA. Schumer’s press release stated that supermarkets in New York City have increased the price of a dozen eggs by up to 48 percent.
Mr. Browder said such an uptick could be beneficial for his and other local farms.
“We’re expensive relative to a store-bought egg, so if the differential becomes smaller, then maybe the demand would pick up,” he said. “People who have said ‘Browder’s Birds is too expensive for us’ — maybe they’d reconsider.”
The Browders also said while it is important to fund an immediate solution, the government must also think critically about how industry standards affect the disease.
“As far as I know, outdoor hens like ours haven’t had a problem with avian flu,” Mr. Browder said. “Isn’t that interesting? To me, it’s the system of farming that’s probably to blame.”