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California egg production tumbles

by 5m Editor
9 March 2007, at 11:07am

CALIFORNIA - Like Humpty Dumpty, California egg ranchers have taken a tumble. Egg production in the state failed to crack 5 billion in 2006, marking the lowest output since 1958. High-priced real estate and feed, and government regulations have thinned chicken flocks that once numbered more than 40 million birds in the early 1970s. USDA data for 2006 show California's poultry ranches produced 4.9 billion eggs.

Don Bell, UC Cooperative Extension poultry specialist emeritus, said the state's flock, which numbered 24 million laying chickens in 2000 has dropped to about 19 million. He expects the slide to continue.

"Probably next year, it will be another low until we see some growth," Bell said. "We have had a stagnant population of chickens in California probably for four or five years now at about 19 million."

California ranchers reached equilibrium in supply/demand balance in 1958, but began a build-up in the state's laying flock that hit nearly 42 million birds in the early 1970s, producing "a terrible surplus" of eggs, Bell said. An outbreak of Newcastle disease and other factors whittled away at the state's egg production, which was centered in several Southern California counties.

In the past decade, the soaring cost of land, especially in Southern California, has caused a shift northward into the Central Valley, following a similar trend in the dairy industry. Some ranchers are retiring from the business and the incentives for others to expand now in California are somewhat questionable.

"Population and land prices and government regulations, distances from the feed market --- these are factors that will dictate whether we stay here, continue down or maybe see a little rise," Bell said.

"The problem is that California is not a user friendly egg state anymore."

The rise in regulations on farms and ranches, especially in animal agriculture, has also limited industry expansion.

"Just about every major egg company has to have a governmental relations employee just to keep up with the legislation. Almost every week you hear about some new regulation that is being imposed on agriculture," Bell said. "The bureaucracy is getting to be unmanageable."

Bell said a single laying hen is needed to produce the eggs for each person. That should mean California would support double the current laying flock, but egg imports from other states account for about one-third of the supply consumed by Californians.

Source: Capital Press

5m Editor