Mississippi poultry and egg companies are poised for expansions to fill the national gaps caused by the 2015 bird flu outbreaks in other states.
Tom Tabler, poultry specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said companies are looking for more broiler growers or additional barns on existing farms.
“Poultry companies anticipate strength at least in the short term, but anything can change that optimism,” he said. “Feed costs are reasonable right now, but a drought or other problems this summer could run up grain prices and therefore production costs.”
Mississippi’s poultry industry benefited from higher egg prices in 2015. Bird flu primarily impacted commercial turkey houses and egg layers but not broiler houses. While most of the state’s poultry industry is broiler production, Mississippi is home to Cal-Maine, the nation’s largest egg production company. None of Cal-Maine’s facilities across the country were struck by the flu.
“Avian influenza caused a shortage of eggs and laying hens, so prices for both are strong,” Tabler said. “During the outbreak, export markets dried up for broilers and are still slow to recover.”
During the week ending April 16, Mississippi placed 14.5 million broiler-type chicks for meat production, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report. That was 6 percent fewer than the number placed that week in 2015 and 1 percent fewer than the number placed as of April 9. Mississippi hatcheries set 17.7 million broiler-type eggs during the same period, up 1 percent from last year but down 2 percent from the previous week.
During the seven-month period of the 2015 outbreak, almost 50 million birds died, primarily in Minnesota and Iowa. Bird flu only affected commercial birds never entered into the food chain; it has not posed a threat to consumers.
Tabler said the best news for Mississippi growers is the absence of a bird flu outbreak this winter. “We are not completely out of the woods, but every day closer to warm temperatures is a day closer to conditions that will prevent the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus from surviving. There was a nationwide effort to increase biosecurity on poultry farms, and that may have been a factor in limiting outbreaks in 2016.”
The only outbreak reported recently occurred in a commercial turkey flock in mid-January in Indiana.
“Our increased biosecurity practices will have long-term benefits for the industry,” Tabler said.
Brian Williams, an agricultural economist with the MSU Extension Service, said egg prices are the lowest they have been since June 2012.
“Egg prices are running just under a dollar, almost a third of what they were in August, when they reached $2.67 per dozen,” Williams said. “Broiler prices have been steady for the last several months at about $1.11 per pound.”
Williams said poultry remained in 2015 the state’s largest agricultural commodity for the 21st year. The total poultry value was $3.25 billion, which included $2.9 billion for broilers, $319 million for eggs and $6.8 million for chickens used as laying hens. Poultry ranked ahead of forestry’s $1.8 billion and soybean’s $1 billion estimated values.