(WHTM) — Simply stated, lots of stuff. As one expert in agriculture told us, “There’s no uniform answer to the pricing question.”

Increases in gas and diesel prices, labor costs, feed costs, costs of maintaining biosecurity around a farm, lingering supply chain disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic, and of course losses due to avian flu are just a few of the factors feeding into the spike in egg prices.

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There are some signs of hope: today’s (Jan. 24, 2023) USDA market report on “Daily Northeast Region Eggs” shows that shell egg inventory is up 2.6 percent from last Monday, Jan. 16. On the other hand, the USDA Northeastern Region Monthly Chicken and Egg Report shows that egg production in Pennsylvania in December 2022 was down 17 percent from December 2021.

Of all the factors, Avian Flu may be the easiest to quantify. Both state and federal officials have been tracking the wheres, whens, and hows of the disease’s spread, and have compiled pages of statistics. Genetic testing helped track where it’s been spreading from. In short, bird flu has one of the best paper trails of all the factors leading to the current egg shortage. So let us go through them step by step.

The first thing we have to keep in mind is the flu is still with us. There are 12 states still dealing with the disease, including three uncomfortably near Ohio on Jan. 18, Virginia on Jan. 19, and New Hampshire on Jan. 23.

As of 5:02 p.m. on Jan. 24, there are no infected flocks in Pennsylvania. Whether that will be true at 5:03 p.m. is anybody’s guess. That’s because the primary infection vector, according to genetic analysis, is migrating wild birds. As they travel they leave evidence of their passing… which can contain the virus.

The last reported outbreak in Pennsylvania happened on Nov. 17, 2022. So what happens when an infected flock is found? The birds have to be euthanized, the carcasses disposed of in a way that will not spread the virus, and the facility the birds were in has to be thoroughly disinfected. Then the farmers must wait at least 21 days before they can restock. (They will spend this time complying with several rules and restrictions, filling out reams of permits, and applying for indemnities from the state and federal government.)

Once they restock, the question of how soon they start making money again depends on what they are raising the chickens for. Chickens destined for our dinner plates can be ready for market in six to eight weeks. If you’re raising chickens for eggs, it will take six months from hatching before the hen starts laying. So, if the flock from Nov. 17 is replaced by newborn chicks by Dec. 18, the farmer won’t have eggs to sell until sometime in June.

This might be one of the reasons egg prices are rising. Or it might not. As stated earlier there’s no uniform answer to this problem. About the only thing we can be sure of is all the smaller problems feeding into the big problem are going to take a while yet to sort out.