Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario Commentary
By Richard Blyleven, CFFO Vice-president
On April 1 2015 I attended the Annual Meeting of the Egg Farmers of Ontario (EFO). The mood was upbeat. It was party time because it was their 50th Anniversary, and with the success that they have had over the past 50 years everyone was entitled to celebrate. Moving forward a year to EFO’s 51st Annual Meeting on March 30 2016, the mood was totally different. This is because of a major shift coming into egg farming in Canada to cage free eggs. This is the second commentary looking at the impact of the cage free egg trend.
Some of the farmers I talked to were bitter and mad about the future of the industry. The demand for cage-free eggs is growing, and with the number of restaurant chains and retailers demanding cage-free eggs, the timeline and percentage of cage-free eggs that are needed is increasing rapidly. These egg farmers had all expanded or built new barns with in the last five years using the conventional battery cage system. These farmers were frustrated, and wondered why the industry had not seen this coming. The caged systems they had just bought for a considerable cost would now all need to be changed. Plus because cage free systems give the chickens more room, the barns would have to be made bigger. So, having just made a huge investment in four to five year old barns, these farmers would have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars again in order to make the birds cage free. One farmer told me that there was no room to expand his barn where it was located. Some of them were young farmers, just starting out with huge debt.
Other farmers who are veterans in the industry wanted to know the expected timeline from Egg Farmers of Ontario for conversion to cage-free eggs. I was surprised to hear these farmers plan to retire from the industry, because they said they are not willing to get a mortgage or loan to get this done. Some of these family farms have been producing eggs for 75 years or more.
Currently about 90 per cent of egg production is with conventional battery systems. Restaurant chains such as Swiss Chalet, Kelseys, East Side Marios, and Harvey’s all said they would be one hundred per cent cage-free by 2020. Others such as Tim Hortons, and Burger King said they would be cage-free by 2025, with many other restaurants and retailers indicating they will be switching within a similar timeline.
Many egg farmers I talked with did not expect that the whole egg industry would change to cage-free eggs since cage free demands a premium in price. In the end they expect consumers will vote with their wallets, and not be willing to pay the premium. Whether that is true or not still remains to be seen. But one thing we can be sure of is that the egg industry is in for some big changes in the coming years.