Desperate times call for desperate measures

Egg producers in New Zealand have been hard hit since the Covid-19 pandemic entered the country closing the food service sector, leading to a slump in demand for their produce. Wairarapa egg farm shares their experience of coping with a national egg oversupply.


Chris Martin Wairarapa farm, Carterton, New Zealand 24,000 free-range layers

he way New Zealand handled the Covid crisis is probably one of the best in the world. That said, strict lockdowns and border closures did have a rip- ple effect through the economy, unearthing and

amplifying an already existing issue: an oversupply of eggs. Some panic buying at the start of the country’s first lockdown eased the pressure on the oversupply of eggs but it wasn’t long before the market was totally saturated as the hospitali- ty industry shut down. One of those egg producers who quickly had to find alternative outlets for his eggs is free- range producer Chris Martin who owns Wairarapa Eggs, based at Carterton in the North Island. Chris explained his situation: “The main challenge at the mo- ment is the trying market conditions. We are encountering competitors that we have never seen in our area. Basically the

national flock is too large. Without tourism and the cruise ships the food service sector has been particularly severely af- fected.” He continued: “New Zealand responded hard and early to tackle the virus and the initial lockdown created a lot of panic buying which did soak up a bit of that early egg surplus. But adding to the challenge is that we are currently moving through a legislative process of phasing out conventional cages. With the two major FMCG companies announcing that they want to be cage free by 2025, this has meant that there has been a shake up of the industry with people transitioning out of cages into cage-free options, or into colony.”

Oversupply explained “Up until late 2019 cage prices were very high which I think meant that some of the larger farms were running the new cage-free operations alongside their old cage ones. Since the money was so good they hung on to the cages, as they didn’t need to transition yet. I reckon this has added to the oversup- ply. If the national flock dropped by 15% we would be OK, I think. Given the nature of the industry where it’s farm against farm in the marketplace, a drop in bird numbers probably won’t happen as we all don’t want to be the one caught short.” Chris had high hopes at the beginning of the Covid crisis: “At the beginning when Covid-19 hit, we initially thought we would come out unscathed. But with the government’s pro- longed restrictions on cafes, bakeries and restaurants, the in- dustry supply to food service venues has been hard hit and forced a lot of eggs into the supermarkets.” “We have had to drop prices and promote eggs a lot more ag- gressively than we had initiually thought just to shift stock via online sales. It took quite some time before the situation came back anywhere close to normal,” he added.

Early adopter of free range Chris bought his farm eight years ago from his in-laws when he was 25. At that stage it included a 15,000 bird barn and a free-range farm that was a converted cage facility. “Over the last four years we have shut that farm down and built a new 24,000 bird free-range farm in Carterton. My in-laws had bought the original farm when they emigrated here from Holland 36 years ago from another Dutch guy who had start- ed the farm 20 years before that.” He now has 24,000 birds on 13 hectares and has split the birds into six flocks housed in three large poultry sheds. “We didn’t build the conventional

12 ▶ POULTRY WORLD | No. 3, 2021

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