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Eggs pitched in protest

September 05, 2000

Eggs pitched in protest



By JULIE E. GREENE / Staff Writer

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer

Pitching eggsMIDDLETOWN, Md. - Poultry farmer Randy Sowers doesn't like throwing away eggs, yet he's hoping it will catch on.

"I don't like wasting food," said Sowers, picking up a tray of 30 eggs and tossing them into a huge manure pit on his dairy farm.

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Sowers said he is fed up with the price of eggs and he means to do something about it.

Sowers, 46, who lives in the Bolivar area east of the Washington County line, hopes more poultry farmers will throw away their eggs and drive up prices for producers.

Sowers, an independent poultry and dairy farmer, said he believes corporate farms are driving down the price of eggs for producers while the price for consumers at the store is staying the same.

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While Sowers wants to make a statement, he isn't trying to throw away the farm. He's not throwing out Grade A large eggs, but small eggs that would only fetch 6 cents a dozen.

And he's not throwing all of them away.

"We've been giving them away to churches and neighbors and food banks" for about a week, he said.

Anyone who's willing to drive down to his farm at the corner of Bolivar and Reno Monument roads can pick up eggs between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. for 10 cents a dozen, if they bring their own container, Sowers said.

Even giving them away, Sowers has too many because his hens are still too young to produce the larger eggs people are used to buying in the grocery stores.

Sowers doesn't think it's worth packing the small eggs for such a low price when the market is already flooded with eggs.

"He's not going to get very much for a small egg," said Billie Jo Corell with United Egg Producers, an egg industry co-op.

"It is an interesting problem" since eggs are one of the few commodities where the price is not based on cost plus the profit margin, but on the daily wholesale trading market, Corell said.

Nationally, a dozen large eggs this year will bring a farmer 48 cents a dozen compared to 60 cents a dozen in 1998, Corell said. While farmers are getting less for their eggs, consumers are paying the same, she said.

For Sowers the price for large eggs dropped as low as 17 cents a dozen last December, causing him to lose $150,000 last year.

With milk prices also down, Sowers has refinanced his 1,600-acre farm so he can build a processing plant and hopefully recover some losses.

The plant is expected to start processing eggs and milk in November, allowing Sowers to eliminate the middle man and sell his own bottled milk, yogurt, cheese, butter and ice cream.

For now, Sowers expects to throw away thousands of eggs a day - whatever he can't give away - until his hens start producing the larger eggs, which should be in a few weeks.

Between now and Christmas is usually the best time of year for selling eggs as people start baking more for the holidays, but last year it was the worst time, Sowers said.

Sowers believes the price has little to do with supply and demand and more to do with big companies running most of the chicken farms.

"The price for everything is down primarily due to overproduction," said Richard Brown, vice president of Urner Barry Publications Inc., a Toms River, N.J., firm that quotes egg prices for the national market.

"The whole industry is under a lot of pressure from the corporate farms," which have increased production over the years and put many Northeast farmers out of business, Brown said.

As with just about any agricultural product there are some boom years, which lead to overproduction, Brown said.

Throwing away eggs does have some logic since a 1 percent shift in supply can affect the price by 5 percent or more, he said.

"(Sowers) may make a difference in his neighborhood," Brown said.

The eggs thrown into the manure pit won't be completely wasted. Sowers spreads the manure on his fields to grow corn, soybeans, alfalfa and grass hay.

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