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As egg prices soar, Central Coast farms see major demand for chicks

Posted at 7:25 AM, Apr 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-29 10:26:24-04

The omelet many Central Coast residents make for breakfast might cost a bit more due to the coronavirus impact on egg prices, which have nearly doubled in price at some supermarkets in response to increased demand.

"Chickens have a finite number of eggs they're producing every day, we can't just turn the nozzle up and ramp up production," San Luis Obispo County Farm Bureau Exec. Dir. Brent Burchett said.

Central Coast consumers are scrambling to find eggs and that demand has sent prices sky high.

"Some places in San Luis, I've seen $5 for a carton of eggs," Burchett said.

The added cost even prompted the CVS on Madonna Road in San Luis Obispo to post a statement, warning customers of price gouging and a promise to keep egg costs steady.

But the higher costs of eggs at competing supermarkets don't necessarily mean big paydays for farmers.

"The comment that aren't farmers doing really well right now because they see shortages at the grocery store and that's really not the case," Burchett said.

Burchett said about 250 farms in SLO County produce eggs.

Though the demand for eggs in grocery stores is high, farmers who once supplied restaurants now have an oversupply.

"The labeling laws for selling eggs at the grocery store are different from selling to a commercial food service," Burchett said.

The two supply chains cannot cross without intervention from Congress, which means many of the eggs produced for commercial use are going to waste.

Instead of forking over more money for eggs, some consumers are taking a different route.

"We sell out of about 600 to 1500 baby chicks within 15 minutes every week on the website," Megan Raff, who owns Dare 2 Dream Farms in Lompoc, said.

Dare 2 Dream Farms sells chicks in pairs for $8 each. It takes about six months before the bird is mature enough to lay eggs.

Since the coronavirus outbreak, Raff said sales have increased by about 500 percent.

"The only reason that number isn't higher is we can't get any more baby chicks in," Raff said.

Her own supply chains, which come from certified hatcheries in Texas and Iowa, have backed up not only from increased national demand but workers sickened or separated due to the coronavirus.

Whether people buy chicks for eggs or as a fun, educational family project, Raff and Burchett hope the experience rallies support for the industry.

"Any time you can connect your family with ag, that's a positive thing," Burchett said. "There's not many positives from coronavirus but I'm hopeful that the one thing we get out of this is people appreciate their food."

Burchett expects the cost of eggs to go down by the end of this week.