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Owners of Egg City Announce They Will Shut Down Operation : Moorpark: Embly Ranch of El Cajon is planning to take over the Shekell Road facility on April 1. It will decide how many of the 200 workers will stay on.

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The owners of Egg City, once the world’s largest egg farm, announced Friday they are ceasing operations and leasing the plant north of Moorpark to another egg producer.

“It’s been a tough time making profits here,” said Egg City President Bob Field. “The employees have done an absolutely outstanding job, but unfortunately the industry itself is in trouble and for that reason we’re going to have to shut down.”

Under a preliminary agreement, Embly Ranch of El Cajon will assume control of the facility on April 1 and will decide how many of Egg City’s roughly 200 employees will be invited to stay on, said Mario F. Illanes, Egg City spokesman.

Employees not offered a job by Embly or who decide not to accept such an offer will be paid through May 4, in addition to receiving one week of severance pay for each year they have been with the company, Illanes said.

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The decision to effectively abandon the ranch comes seven months after Egg City laid off nearly 170 workers and reduced the size of its chicken flock from 2.5 million to about 1.3 million birds. The downsizing coincided with the company halting shipments of whole eggs to market and instead producing egg whites or other egg products, which are considered more profitable.

The egg farm on Shekell Road, which has operated since 1961 and once housed 3.5 million chickens laying 2 million eggs a day, is owned by a Japanese trading firm, Okura & Co. (America).

Okura invested in Egg City in the late 1980s and took control of the company in 1991 after a bitter court battle with Moorpark resident Ric Carrot, who was the majority owner.

Embly Ranch is a family-owned business started 45 years ago and is now the second largest distributor of eggs in Southern California, said Patti Londre, a spokeswoman for the California Egg Commission. Embly has eight production, processing and distribution facilities in Southern California and Arizona, and markets more than 14 million eggs a week, Londre said.

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Field said a possible upturn in the egg market may bode well for Embly. “The market is in the process of coming back,” he said, suggesting the new owner will not suffer the same losses as Egg City has in recent months. “We got in just on the decline, so their opportunities are probably greater than ours were.”

Over the years, Egg City has been the target of persistent complaints from nearby residents in Moorpark and Fillmore about the smell from chicken manure. But Moorpark Mayor Paul Lawrason said Friday the the smells--usually strongest over the summer months--were not as noticeable this past summer.

“I don’t think that we have, at the present time, a really serious problem,” Lawrason said.

When the odor was at its worst, it even permeated the city’s downtown area, Lawrason said. “I can remember sitting in the council chamber and just thinking what the heck is that,” he said. “It’s just overpowering.”

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Londre said she did not know whether Embly planned to expand the flock or to hold steady at current levels. She did say the company, like other egg producers, is sensitive to the issue of odor.

“All egg producers are aware of odor,” she said. “It’s in the business; these are animals.”

Embly officials could not be reached for comment Friday.


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