IONIA — Alex Courts noticed the price of eggs starting to rise last fall.
Courts, the general manager of Ken’s Farm Market in Ionia, wasn’t alarmed at the time — but that changed.
“Once (prices) get to a certain point, which is really the highest we’ve ever seen — sometime in the mid-to-late fall of (2022) — that’s when I was like, ‘OK, this is a little bit out of the ordinary,’” Courts said.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index, the average price for a dozen Grade A eggs in the U.S. was $4.25 in December 2022 compared to $1.79 in December 2021. That’s an increase of about 237 percent.
Why are prices so high? It’s a toss-up between higher production costs and an avian flu outbreak. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports more than 43 million egg-laying hens died since the beginning of the outbreak in February 2022.
Nancy Barr, executive director of Michigan Allied Poultry Industries, said there are “numerous variables” affecting the price of eggs in Michigan. She said farmers don’t set the price — they sell their eggs on an open market, with prices changing daily.
“(Impacts on the market) include inflation, supply chain and employment costs, which impact everyone,” she said, adding Michigan egg farmers are highly sensitive to the cost of fuel prices, as well, which directly impacts the cost of feed and packaging.
“On the other side, eggs are still the lowest-cost protein Americans can buy, and budget-conscious consumers who are seeing big spikes in beef are choosing to buy eggs, increasing demand in grocery stores statewide.”
Barr said the health and welfare of birds in farmers’ care is of the utmost importance.
“Avian flu killed more than 40 million egg-laying hens in the U.S. during 2022, and while Michigan farmers avoided a large outbreak, our farmers continue to be vigilant with preventative biosecurity tactics,” Barr said. “These health and safety protocols also contribute to increasing prices.”
And then, there’s the shift to producing cage-free eggs — which is more expensive.
Ken’s Farm Market in Ionia worried customers would be upset by higher prices. At one point, a large dozen eggs cost $5, Courts said.
“It really stayed that course through the late fall, into the holidays and into the new year,” he said.
The business has found some brands that provide better value, Courts said. They’ve also explored the cage-free egg market, announcing the week of Jan. 9 that cage-free large eggs were available for $3.99 per dozen
“It’s been really good for us, it’s been (good) for our customers and it’s provided a little value for us,” Courts said.
But some Michiganders are tired of waiting for prices to drop. Jamestown Township resident Patricia Kraus told WOOD TV-8 she’s received an influx of requests for eggs after she began raising her own chickens last year.
Kraus told the station she usually sells eggs for $7-$8 per dozen, but said the product is high-quality.
“Farm fresh eggs are … they’re better and they honestly should be more expensive than the ones you find in the store because we know what we feed our chickens; we know that they’re taken care of,” Kraus said.
At least one municipality is considering changing its ordinance to allow residents to keep food-producing pets, including chickens and bees. The city of Zeeland in Ottawa County began exploring the shift after seeing an increase in requests in response to the pandemic and rising prices.
It’s unclear when egg prices will return to normal, but there’s been a dip since the start of 2023.
“I think there’s hope that things will kind of go down from here,” Courts said.