Egg producers show adaptability in the pandemic, look toward the future

December 16, 2020

Published by Poultry Times,

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — While the COVID-19 pandemic has had devastating and global impacts in 2020, the tremendous resiliency of the U.S. agriculture community — and the significance of the critical role we play — has never been more apparent.

Our ability to adapt and be forward-thinking during this unimaginable “omni-crisis” of economic, health, unemployment, political and social issues has been critical in addressing the hunger and food insecurity issues that have escalated this year, in maintaining stability and business continuity for egg producers, and in keeping store shelves and customer supplies stocked in the early months of the pandemic.

We have had to re-think priorities and adjust our work and expectations, and we have seen true leadership from farm organizations across the nation that have successfully guided the industry during this time.

Like many, United Egg Producers (UEP) went to work early in the pandemic to support the nation’s egg producers, forging ahead to get things done and to protect the businesses and livelihoods of our community.

Taking action against COVID

During the past year, UEP has taken several important steps to support the industry and our membership while also prioritizing supply chain and worker safety, including:

  • Providing egg producers with guidance and resources on relevant topics, from maintaining an essential workforce to assuring biosecurity, and from continuing compliance with egg safety regulations to shifting supply across customer sectors.
  • Creating, within days, a dedicated website with relevant information and resources about regulations, financial support, food safety practices and farm worker considerations.
  • Convening numerous calls and webinars with members to answer questions and report on UEP’s work with government and regulatory agency leaders to help preserve the viability of egg producers during the pandemic.
  • Helping producers meet their egg safety commitments while protecting their farms and employees and adjusting to new inspection processes.
  • Implementing worker health and safety protocols to protect essential workers producing eggs for the nation as others in animal agriculture were facing plant shutdowns and widespread COVID-19 cases among workers.

Shifting the supply chain

Of particular importance was the ability of the egg farming community to swiftly make significant changes within its supply chain and be flexible in our businesses as consumers shopped more at groceries and restaurants and institutions across the U.S. closed. When retail store shelves in some markets were low on eggs and customer panic was contributing to hoarding behaviors, UEP leveraged its solid USDA and FDA relationships to help egg producers redirect supply from foodservice into retail in an effort to meet increased consumer demand.

UEP’s rapid response has been due in large part to the organization’s commitment to assemble a team of experts within the organization, ensuring the industry is well prepared to work through a crisis and protect egg producers’ businesses.

As a result, the egg industry was able to quickly pivot to meet the needs of consumers and redirect supply from customer sectors that were shut down, while also maintaining the highest standards for animal welfare, environmental responsibility and egg safety.

Looking beyond the pandemic

Even in the shadow of the public health crisis, UEP remained firmly focused on shaping the industry’s future. In March 2020, UEP announced its strategic priorities, which remain in place and more relevant than ever in the context of COVID-19.

Our 2020 strategic plan, developed under the leadership of a diverse group of egg production stakeholders, provides a roadmap for the next five years that will position the industry to increase trust, reduce risk, provide stability and grow demand for U.S. produced eggs.

Egg production’s significant contributions to economic development and employment in the U.S. must be well defined, especially as the country looks toward economic recovery.

Having a clear and aligned direction for the preservation and growth of the egg industry is essential. Our plan is built on four strategic platforms including 1) market transparency, 2) industry collaboration and communications, 3) sustainability, and 4) government affairs. These priorities have never been more imperative than they are today, and this past year has re-affirmed that we are heading in the right direction.

A strong sign of how UEP is taking that deliberate path is its commitment to guiding industry sustainability as a founding member of the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Poultry and Eggs. Shaped on pillars of environmental responsibility, social issues and economic health, UEP’s role on the Roundtable will help advance continuous improvement in on-farm sustainability through leadership, innovation, multi-stakeholder engagement and collaboration.

While the current crisis is not yet behind us, UEP is focused on supporting its members in the long term and continuing to position the industry for future success.

UEP’s farmer leaders, staff and consultants will work to advance these priorities for the organization; to assure UEP remains nimble in adjusting to changes in the business, political or social environment; to remove barriers to industry success; and to create a stable operating climate conducive to the future success of U.S. egg producers. We will also work with the new administration to make sure that agriculture’s voice continues to be heard on the issues most important to egg producers.

Chad Gregory is president of the United Egg Producers with offices in Johns Creek, Ga. UEP is a cooperative of U.S egg farmers who represent more than 90 percent of U.S. egg production. UEP collaboratively works to address legislative, regulatory and advocacy issues impacting the industry through active farmer-member leadership, a unified voice and partnership across the agriculture community.