By Joanna Newman

AMERICAN farmers are just too busy these days to take their pigs to market.

Producers are out in the fields planting their spring crops with a third of the maize crop planted last week alone, while 12% of soya bean acres have been completed in recent days.

With hands and equipment otherwise engaged, it is little wonder that packers are suddenly faced with shortage of live pigs.

Slaughterhouses have been forced to raise their bids for market-ready pigs, pushing up the cash transaction price by about 2¢/lb from the start of the month to 36¢/lb (49p/kg).

Tight supply of live pigs has forced processing plants to slow their operating rates, which in turn has driven up pork values.

Only 1.78 million head were processed last week, compared with about 2m a week during the first quarter of this year.

As a result, cash bellies have jumped to 60-62¢/lb (81.5-84p/kg) from 55-56¢ a week ago.

With beef values relatively stable, pork is fast losing competitiveness against beef.

Retailers may switch their promotional focus from pork to beef as summer consumption picks up.

Helped by higher slaughter and wholesale prices, futures values have soared to their highest level in a year and are now up a third from their December lows.

The Chicago June lean hogs contract gained 2¢ on the week to settle at 60.0¢/lb on Tuesday (11 May).

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