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Egg prices hurt farmers

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Farmers lose 3.5 cents for every dozen eggs produced these days, says Larry Shirk, sales and marketing manager at Wenger’s Feed Mill Inc., Rheems.
It’s a case of too much good fortune, Shirk says. Egg producers reversed the high-cholesterol reputation of their product with “the incredible, edible egg” commercials, and scientifically mixed soybean, corn and vitamin feeds have stimulated production.
Things got so good, egg producers earned 20 cents for every dozen eggs they sold in 1996. But Midwestern and Southern farmers, who were having bad luck with droughts and row crops such as corn and soybeans, built enormous chicken houses and flooded the market.
The average price has dropped from about 92 cents per dozen large eggs in 1996 to 71 cents in 2002, says Richard Brown, vice president and chief egg reporter at Urner Barry Publications, a Tom’s River, N.J., trade magazine for the farm industry.
Egg prices could climb again due to the avian flu, which caused state Department of Agriculture officials to destroy more than 100,000 birds in December at five Union County farms about 50 miles north of Harrisburg. The Department of Agriculture’s Dr. Bruce Smucker says the flu only affected broilers (five-to eight-week-old birds that are raised solely for their meat) and broiler breeders (hens that lay fertilized eggs).
New avian flu cases have not been reported for the past three weeks in Pennsylvania, Smucker says, and only a few cases have been reported in Connecticut and New York.
“That hasn’t really affected the egg industry,” Shirk says.
Smucker says the Pennsylvania strain of the avian flu usually doesn’t affect humans. A strain of the disease killed seven children and infected a dozen others in Hong Kong in 1997 and 1999. Humans can transmit the virus by transporting feathers and feces from their boots, clothing, equipment and vehicle tires.
Pennsylvania poultry farmers produced $634 million in poultry meat and eggs in 1999, according to figures supplied by Jim Shirk, assistant vice president of PennAg Industries Association, a nonprofit trade group in Lower Paxton Township. Pennsylvania hens laid 6.14 billion eggs, and farmers sold 703.6 million pounds of chicken from 135.3 million broilers. Pennsylvania ranks fourth among egg-producing states in the number of egg-laying hens.
If farmers lose money on eggs, why do they continue to produce eggs?
“This is a very cyclical business,” Shirk answers. “They hope things will turn around.”

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