As a result the price gap between boneless and bone-in pork cuts increased by more than 67 per cent, the report from United States Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service said.
The spread measures the difference between weekly prices of a weighted average basket of boneless pork cuts and the price of bone-in hams weighing between 23 and 27 pounds.
When virus infections sharply reduced plant workers in spring 2020, causing labor shifts away from further processing work, the price spread spiked by almost 123 per cent.
During that period, when plant disruptions were causing hogs to back up on farms, plant managers frequently shifted workers from further-processing operations, such as cutting carcasses into smaller cuts and removing bones, to early-stage processing (cutting carcasses into large bone-in cuts), the report said.
The pork cut spread then declined in early 2021 as vaccine rollouts began and COVID-related absences and hog slaughter numbers fell, allowing more workers to be allocated to further processing/boning work, increasing supplies of boned cuts and reducing their prices.
The spread is now widening again.