Sixty per cent of the cost of producing poultry and eggs is feed, and the November futures price for wheat which makes up 60% of that feed has risen £50 per tonne year-on-year to £146.75 [HGCA/Liffe].
Every £10/tonne rise in the price of wheat costs the poultry industry roughly £37m a year, estimates the National Farmers Union.
That suggests the industry is already coughing up £185m more than a year ago or 15p more per chicken produced and 7.5p more per dozen eggs.
Further rises would have to be passed on to consumers, warned British Poultry Council chairman Peter Bradnock. "These are rises of such significance that they can't continue to be absorbed through ever-increasing efficiency," he said. "If the prices continue to rise then it will have to be reflected in the poultry meat price."
Retail prices were likely to come under increasing pressure, agreed NFU poultry board chairman Charles Bournes. "Every breast has eaten a kilogramme of wheat and if wheat's gone up then it's going to have to cost extra," he said.
Egg producers said they were already struggling to cope with the feed cost hikes. "The concern is that the industry is having to deal with these soaring costs at the same time as making a record investment to meet the ban on conventional cages in 2012," added Fridays marketing manager David Friday.
But, said Bournes, poultry farmers faced with higher production costs could take comfort from the fact that consumer demand for chicken was particularly strong at the moment.
According to Brand View, the price of chicken has been stable over the past three months, with own-label skinless breast fillets costing an average of £3.28/286-1,000g.
The price of eggs has also been stable, with a pack of six large free-range eggs costing an average of £1.61 in the major multiples over the past three months.