A dry winter and a burst of early spring heat and sunshine have sent many of Australia’s 20 million layer hens into overdrive, delivering a surplus of eggs in the past two months.
But after recent weeks of rainy weather in southern Australia the production spike is just as likely to rapidly dissolve.
Cost pressures on producers are also set to have a flattening impact over summer as rising grain and energy prices chew into margins and encourage producers to keep flock numbers in check.
As Australians tuck into significantly more eggs each year, the challenge for egg producers is to manage rising demand with the right quota of increased production.
However, changes in the weather, including plenty of sunshine, or cloudy and cool, damp conditions, can further complicate layer activity and the best laid plans of farmers.
The egg industry is pointing to an increasing number of free range hens in production and being partly responsible for more frequent volatility in the production cycle.
“Supply has been strong over spring as the sunshine arrived early which increases production in the more variable free range systems,” said managing director of peak industry body Australian Eggs, Rowan McMonnies.
Conveniently, however Christmas is a peak consumption time for eggs as home cooking activities and festive season entertaining ramp up.
“We are already starting to see the festive season kick in to move this supply, so we can expect a good dose of pavlova this Christmas,” he said.
Australians are currently eating about 231 eggs each over a 12 month period – up from 226 a year ago.
That equates to about to about 15 million eggs consumed daily.
While the latest supply hike has seen mainstream retail prices discounted up to 30 per cent, industry analysts observe more typical price cuts have seen cartons of 700 gram supermarket eggs drop in price from an average $3 to about $27.75.
Chief executive officer of the producer body, Egg Farmers of Australia, John Dunn, said a spring flush was normal in the production cycle, but sunny, dry weather and some new investment activity to accommodate rising demand had probably combined to produce more eggs of late.
Improving genetics and husbandry processes were also lifting productivity efficiency over time.
NSW Farmers' egg committee chairman, Bede Burke, noted while a widespread dry winter and spring had helped production, the past month of damper conditions and flooding in Victoria would likely impact some free range productivity.
Reduced sunlight hours discouraged laying, while damp weather and muddy conditions tended to promote more health problems in backyard and open grazing flocks.
Meanwhile, mainstream producers would be weighing up recent supply trends against their rising feed costs after the smallest NSW grain harvest in a decade.
“Unfortunately eggs are a perishable commodity so you can’t store your surplus in a silo until the market needs them,” said Mr Burke who has 106,000 layers at Tamworth.
“We have to plan for demand well before the hens are actually at laying age.
“It’s hard to fully anticipate what supply conditions will be like at any particular time, especially as there aren’t many obstacles for entry into the egg production game for anybody wanting to run backyard or free range hens.
“It’s not too easy to run a few lambs or cattle in the backyard, but people can keep their own hens.”
About 56pc of Australia’s layer hens are kept in caged housing.
Egg Farmers' Mr Dunn said ironically, although egg demand was rising, the industry was actually under pressure from animal rights activists to effectively cut production by converting cage operations into barn or free range systems.
Cage egg producers are under intense scrutiny from critics while a new set of national animal welfare standards and guidelines for the poultry industry is being debated.
A public consultation process will run until February offering all interested parties the chance to comment on the impact of proposed options for regulation.