Egg shortages in the UK prompt farmers to call on supermarkets to ‘pay the right price’

‘It’s a really sad situation we’re in, I think farmers just feel a bit devalued and deflated’

Farmers are calling for “transparency and fairness in the food chain” as costs spiral out of control, forcing some to stop stocking chickens and even culling them early to avoid further losses.

Some supermarkets still have full shelves, others are looking increasingly bare and some supermarkets in Plymouth and the UK have recently introduced strict limits on the number of eggs customers can buy. However, many farmers are still producing a steady amount of eggs and say the problem is due to the supermarkets’ own supply.

We spoke to local farmers to find out what’s really going on with the egg supply – is there a shortage and if so, why?

Pete Olds, farmer and partner at Cornhill Farm, Cornwall, has 14,000 free-range chickens. He explained that they canceled their supermarket contract three years ago and are now focusing mainly on local sales – a decision that he says has made them much happier and much more satisfied. But for commercial farmers who produce for supermarkets, with the huge increase in costs this year, they are looking at an average loss of 29 pence per dozen eggs.

Pete, 37, said: “Farmers are making huge losses and supermarkets just don’t pass on the inflation they put on their supermarket prices.” He added that supermarkets have increased their prices by about 55/60p per dozen, but farmers are only seeing about 18p of that.

“There’s a huge gap the size of an English Channel between what the farmer should be getting and what he’s getting,” Pete said. “I think farmers just want a little bit of transparency and fairness in the food chain.”

The journey from the eggs to the stores begins with the commercial egg farmer who sends the eggs to a packer hired by a supermarket. The eggs then go to the supermarket, which in turn pays the packer, who then pays the farmer.

Pete said he sees more and more farmers deciding not to raise chickens, while those who can afford it leave the barns empty. He said: “Our inflation is currently around 30%, while general inflation is around 11%, so our costs are skyrocketing all the time and we just don’t get paid fairly for the great British products we make.

“It’s a really sad situation we’re in. I think growers are feeling a bit devalued and deflated by all of this, because we’re just not appreciated for the really good products we’re making.”

Cornhill Farm canceled their supermarket contract three years ago and is now focusing on local sales

“The shortage is not the eggs themselves or the chickens. The shortage is due to farmers not restocking their chickens or getting out of egg production early, so culling their chickens early because they physically can’t go through with such losses.”

Pete continued: “The supermarkets are getting way too much out of the system – the average price costs the producer £1.39 a dozen, but we only get paid about £1.10 on average. And yet – some supermarkets like Sainsbury’s are probably selling them at the moment for £3.30, Waitrose for £5.50.”

“There’s such a gap between the selling price and what the farmer gets, but the farmer does all the hard work, out there in the weather and takes all the risks, including bird flu.”

The British Free Range Egg Producing Association is an organization that supports egg producers, and according to Pete and other farmers, the association had been warning since March this year that there would be a shortage of eggs by Christmas, but supermarkets ‘didn’t listen’.

Another farmer, John Ridout, who is also a senior partner on a family-run farm, said the association had “no response at all from the supermarkets.” John echoed what Pete said, agreeing that supermarkets have been unwilling to increase the money they pay back to producers.

However, John has said things are slowly starting to change now, with supermarkets realizing they need to increase what they pay farmers. He said it was very difficult for packers and farmers: “AI’ve only seen prices go up in the supermarket and I don’t think that’s been passed on to us.”

He explained that all basic costs have increased, including diesel, labour, energy and insurance. John added: “WWe are not greedy people, we just want to make a living”.

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