BERLIN TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Avian influenza has impacted more than 37 million birds in 34 states across the U.S. this year, including Michigan. The disease has caused poultry ranches to be on high alert. 

“We always have practiced a very high level of biosecurity,” said Rick Herrera, vice president of marketing at Herbruck’s Poultry Ranch. “We limit the outside influence on our hens and also on our team members.”

He explained that on a regular basis, everyone who visits Herbruck’s is screened, and if they have been around birds or pigs within the past 72 hours, they are not allowed on the farm. 

“We have ramped that up during (highly pathogenic avian influenza) to restrict it even further, so we restrict movement among our own farms to further isolate them,” Herrera said. “We went to code red with the first backyard flock that popped up near Kalamazoo.”

That means every truck and vehicle gets washed, sanitized and fogged before being allowed on the property. However, the added biosecurity efforts mean higher costs, adding to the already increased price of other products. 

“It really started last summer. If you go back to last June, we really saw the feed markets explode. Corn, which has been averaging $4 to $5 a bushel, fairly consistent for the last five, seven, almost 10 years, started jumping up in price. Currently, corn is trading at between $7 and $8 a bushel. We saw organic soymeal more than triple in price. It went from $500 to $700 a ton to over $2,000.”

Input costs went up, fuel and natural gas prices increased, and so did the cost of labor.

“One thing we do at Herbruck’s is we really put a lot of investment into our team members. Whether it is providing free health insurance or a clinic, we also have to bring our wages up. Our cost just to keep our team members and attract new ones have gone up about 20% since June of last year,” said Herrera. 

HPAI, coupled with all these things, created the perfect storm. So, when could we expect the market to settle? 

“If I had to get our crystal ball out, and we’re working again with our retailers to make these types of predictions or thoughts, we expect the market to settle down a bit. It is already started to come down, dropping from that high of around $3,” Herrera explained. 

He expects prices will remain high throughout the summer because it takes time to rebuild the flocks. 

“You have to disinfect the barns, get the poults back in, get them to start laying large eggs along their life cycle. I would say as we hit fall, you’ll see egg prices come down and get somewhat back to normal, but they still will be elevated from last year just due to the strict cost of inputs.”

Although it can be frustrating having to pay more for a staple product, Herrera said you still are getting a great value. 

“In the Grand Rapids market, if you look at the average cost of a conventional egg, it’s right around $2.40, $2.50 a dozen. So, that breakfast serving, two eggs, is about 40 cents. I mean, we truly are talking about the most affordable protein in the store.”

He added that a lot more goes into the tag on the shelf than customers might realize. 

“We’re working hard to keep the price down, but what people have to understand is in order to get that product to you — a safe, wholesome, quality product. We are constantly working on innovation and ways to make that a better product for you. How to make lives better for our team members, and how to make lives better for our hens. That’s what we focus on.”