Egg producer frustrated

Tough times . . . Agreeable Nature’s Michelle Pringle says small scale egg producers who survived Covid-19 lockdown continue to face difficulties. PHOTO: NICK BROOK

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New Zealand’s egg shortage is attributed to the phase-out of battery-cage egg production, but a local producer says ‘‘unworkable regulations’’ are affecting small scale, free-range farmers’ ability to supply the demand.

Michelle and Tony Pringle’s Clutha Valley agri-business Agreeable Nature is ‘‘committed to sustainable . . . regenerative farming processes’’, including free-range egg production, and featured on TVNZ’s Country Calendaron March 1, 2020.

Twenty-four days later, the country was in Covid-19 lockdown.

‘‘We lost about 80% of our business when cafes, restaurants, bakeries, shops and farmer’s markets closed for the lockdowns,’’ Mrs Pringle said.

Many small scale egg producers went under — along with the businesses they supplied — but survivors such as Agreeable Nature have new hurdles to overcome to take advantage of the recent demand, Mrs Pringle said.

‘‘We want to supply the natural, high quality, nutrient-dense food everybody deserves, but new regulations and compliance costs make it a lot more challenging to get back to where we were pre-Covid.’’

On July 1 last year, a new set of redesigned animal product regulations and notices came into effect, reconfiguring industry requirements for farm infrastructure, animal and product testing, MPI auditing and other compliance with related bureaucracy and financial costs.

Large producers with strong administration and legal resources would manage the new regulatory structure far more easily than small producers with low staff and cash reserves, Mrs Pringle said.

The national egg shortage coincides with a global trend, mainly attributed to the biggest outbreak of avian flu on record.

Scores of millions of birds have died or been culled overseas, while suppliers everywhere are challenged by rising costs of freight, packaging and feed.

Door-to-door inquiries found Balclutha eateries were still able to get all the eggs they needed from wholesalers, but prices had increased significantly.

Many preferred free-range for whole-egg meals such as eggs Benedict, but used cheaper, barn-laid options as ingredients in other dishes.

Barn or ‘‘cage-free’’ hens are farmed in large sheds with a litter floor, perches and nest boxes for laying, but birds do not have outdoor access.

Mrs Pringle said her farm’s return to a fully free-range flock of 6500 hens would be a slow, costly process.

Legislation phasing out caged eggs was first introduced in 2012.