Iowa Still Leads Nation in Egg Production, but Some Challenges Remain

New report on Iowa egg production examines the economic impact and size of industry

March 5, 2020, 9:11 am | Lee Schulz, Maro Ibarburu-Blanc

AMES, Iowa – Iowa is the nation’s leader in egg production and eggs play a key role in the Iowa economy, supporting the livelihoods of thousands of Iowans.

To help explain the importance of Iowa’s $1.33 billion egg industry, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach has compiled a new report on the number of Iowa’s egg-producing farms, how much they produce and their economic impact.

white eggs.Called the “Economic Importance of the Iowa Egg Industry,” the 12-page publication highlights the continued expansion of the state’s egg industry, the continued demand for eggs and future opportunities and challenges.

According to the report, a growing population and higher per capita egg consumption have led to a 1.5% annual expansion in egg production nationally over the last 30 years. With Iowa’s abundance of corn and soybean meal for feed, the state is well situated as the nation’s leader.

In one year, the Iowa egg industry uses 57.8 million bushels of corn and 531,317 tons of soybean meal for feed, including the feed used to grow young chicks (pullets).

From 2007-2014, Iowa produced more eggs than the second and third largest egg-producing states, according to the report. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimated there were about 57.7 million egg-laying hens in Iowa during 2018, which produced 16.4 billion eggs.

Intended audience

The publication provides useful information for the egg industry, and also for the overall economy and workforce of Iowa, according to Maro Ibarburu, associate scientist in the Department of Animal Science at Iowa State.

“For egg producers, this provides an overview of their strengths and weaknesses,” said Ibarburu. “An outside view can help them understand themselves and their situation a little better.”

The data is compiled from multiple sources, but mostly from the USDA.

Ibarburu said one of the things that caught his attention the most was the labor aspect. The Iowa egg industry supports 2,398 direct jobs, plus 1.9 jobs for every job directly created by egg production. The average annual salary of workers within the state’s egg industry is $45,967.

Jobs range from caring for animals in the barns, to logistics, shipping, engineering, auditing/compliance, veterinarians and many others.

“Securing labor is actually a challenge for many Iowa producers, because right now, there’s a shortage of rural labor,” Ibarburu said.

Ongoing challenges

While Iowa is poised to continue leading the nation in egg production, the report outlines several ongoing challenges, including the cost of transporting eggs and egg products to areas where there are more people.

Another challenge is the transition to alternative production systems, which require more space per hen and more labor. These types of housing, which are required in some states like California, significantly increase production costs and the cost to consumer.

Beyond cage-free, there is also the potential for further regulations or customer requests for hens to have access to the outdoors year-round, which would pose a significant challenge for Iowa, given its cold winters and hot summers.

The report is compiled about every three to five years, with new data and a focus on current and emerging trends.

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