The humble egg. It was an unlikely accomplice in the development of the agricultural sector on Prince Edward Island. However, in the early part of the twentieth century, this fragile oval pre-embryo hatched an organization that has since inspired the creation of the busy and aggressive farm commodity marketing organizations that support the Islands agricultural industry today.
At the turn of the century, eggs were very poorly marketed and fetched an inadequate price. Growing awareness of the difficulties that Island farmers face has led them to unite co-operatively in order to market their product collectively and increase sales and prices. The first egg circles were started in 1913 and, within one year, 50 circles with 3,994 members were active in communities throughout the Island. By 1932, there were 5,135 members. Hen and pullet operations also benefited from co-operative association. In 1918, Island operations had a total flock of 540,000 birds. By 1928, the flock had increased to 875,000.
During the early years, the profusion of egg circles tended to be somewhat counter-productive as the groups competed against one another. Producers quickly created a province-wide organization so that all eggs produced on the Island were marketed through one channel. The Prince Edward Island Egg and Poultry Association persisted until the mid-1940s. The efforts of the association led to an increase in poultry shipments, most notably a 200 percent increase in volume in 1928 and 1929. The association also operated a chick hatchery, which, in 1930, supplied 28,000 to 35,000 day-old chicks (turkeys, geese, ducks, hens, and pullets) to members and non-members alike. Producers could also purchase brooders, incubators, and feed at cost.
By 1923, the success of the circles was earning Island producers world markets and an international reputation. Prince Edward Island was considered to have ideal conditions for poultry raising and was the foremost producer in Canada. In 1949, Island poultry and egg producers lost their British market and the sector began experiencing a decline. The 1960s saw the rapid dissolution of small barnyard flocks, which gave way to larger, more condensed poultry flocks. Increased efficiency, better management and genetic and hygienic changes all contributed to increased productivity per bird, thus further streamlining egg and poultry operations.
There were 37 poultry and egg farms in Prince Edward Island in 1997. The province is self-sufficient in eggs, exporting a small amount to neighbouring provinces and using some for processing. In Canada, egg production is regulated by the Canadian Egg Marketing Agency, and the provincial quota is administered by the Prince Edward Island Egg Commodity Marketing Board. The board promotes and regulates the production and marketing of eggs, assures a reasonable return to the producer, and guarantees sufficient supplies to the consumer.