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What's behind the rising price of eggs

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Grocery prices for main household staples may be alarming these days, including the price of eggs. In December, egg prices were up 60% from a year earlier. That's according to Consumer Price Index data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Ron Eichner owns Eichner's Family Farm in Wexford, Pa. Mr. Eichner, thanks for being with us.

RON EICHNER: You're welcome, Scott.

SIMON: Why do eggs cost so much more?

EICHNER: Well, from my perspective, you know, it's really down to four items - one, the cost of feed; No. 2, the cost of electric; No. 3, the costs by carton; and No. 4, my nutritional feed fortification that I enhance my nutritional values in the egg with.

SIMON: So every time prices go up for you, they go up for the people who buy them, right?

EICHNER: Yeah, I don't instantly, Scott, pick up the price. But usually with a feed, if it's dramatic, you know, then I'll take it up then. Same thing with the electric. But this year, my feed cost has jumped 26%. My electric cost is up 30%. And now my cost of cartons are up 45%. You know, these are things that you have to escalate it now into your retail product because then you're working for less.

SIMON: And there's really no way you can change those prices, is there?

EICHNER: No, not really. You know, I mean, the big players in the poultry industry are laying hens. I mean, they have a lot of things that they can do. You know, they can control a lot of the costs. They have buying power. But as a small producer, all you can do is do the best you can. But the nutritional fortification is really my gold nugget because I'm producing something that no one else is producing.

SIMON: How much have you had to raise your prices, may we ask?

EICHNER: Well, if we just focus on the calendar January of 2022 through December, my extra-large whites in January were 3.70. By October, they were 4.20. And then by December, they were 5.10.

SIMON: Wow. And at the same time, do you have to worry that if the prices get too high, people just won't buy eggs anymore?

EICHNER: Well, yeah, there can be a little bit of pushback. But, you know, I have a hard base of customers that they know the difference between a high-quality egg and your average egg. But I have people coming to my farm market now saying, wow, it's $5 for a dozen large. Don't you think it should be $7 like in the store? But when the egg prices drop, a lot of my costs don't drop off. And, you know, I got to maintain that balance.

SIMON: What do you hear from other producers?

EICHNER: I get emails from national poultry associations and, basically, you know, they're talking in this case now, the avian flu. That's the biggest target. Sadly, a lot of the egg production, we focus on the egg. They're raised on large farms, or some people call factory farms, and there could be 500,000 or a million and a half. And that's where it can really turn catastrophic.

SIMON: Yeah. So what do you think will happen to egg prices, I don't know, for the next, let's say, until between now and summer?

EICHNER: They're probably going to decline a bit. But, you know, it takes 20 or 22 weeks for a day-old chick to develop into a hen and to lay eggs. So, you know, you're at 5- to 5 1/2 months. And then, you know, not to drag politics in but, you know, there's a global mess with inflation.

SIMON: Ron Eichner of Eichner's Family Farm in Wexford, Pa., thanks so much, sir.

EICHNER: You betcha, Scott. Any time at all. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.