Not surprisingly, China continues to dominate the raw fur trade. While prices have yet to recover from the recent downturn, they appear to be slowly headed upward. Unfortunately, that is only in regard to the ranch mink markets. The train left the station, and our wild furs missed it.
Yet, a number of elements are coming into play, and each could signal some signs of encouragement.
A few years ago, Chinese fur farmers captured the number one spot in mink production. None of the operations were high-volume producers, but the number of those engaged in raising mink increased annually. That is no longer the case. The poor quality of the pelts, higher feed cost and the “advantages of scale” have apparently doomed many of these operations.
Additionally, U.S., Canadian and Scandinavian mink producers indicate slightly fewer bred females for the 2009-2010 crop. With China’s reduced production leading the way, this season’s total ranch mink crop is expected to see an estimated 15 percent decline. Yet, it still is above 43 million pelts.
On the surface, this would appear to have little, if any, positive impact on our wild fur markets. This, in fact, might be the case, but in the long term it could certainly help.
Fewer mink crossing the auction block next season will likely boost prices. Considering these tough economic times and the lingering worldwide recession still gripping consumer products, wild fur could offer a lower cost alternative. There is little doubt this will add a bit of interest in the muskrat market. Wild mink will likely sell well at these lower price levels.
Our Russian fur market is somewhat more problematic. Confirmable retail sales information is almost impossible to obtain from Russia. Pravda, the official newspaper and Web site for Russian business information, is generally viewed by most Western readers as little more than propaganda.
Fur industry insiders have made a couple of interesting observations. Some of the lower grade mink out of China reached Russian consumers. This is particularly true in far Eastern Russia. That number is expected to be trimmed. Our lower grade raccoon sold well, but at very low prices. That alone tells us something.
The crop we have harvested in the past now in the form of finished products before consumers, is not selling well. Yet, wholesale prices of replacement inventories remain about the same.
Establishing widespread consumer demand for wild fur items in China will likely be a long-term endeavor. The U.S. Department of Agriculture staffs four offices there. These government agents are charged with developing new markets and expanding usage of all U.S. agriculture products in China, not just chickens and rice. Our wild fur harvest appears to be of very low priority. From what I can gather, about the only pelts actually monitored are ranch mink, and then primarily only those marketed through American Legend in Seattle.
While I have yet to get a satisfactory position statement regarding our harvest exports, it would appear pelts, both wild and ranched, exported to Canada for sale through auction, end up on the Canadian export side of the ledger. By international law (agreement), all individual pelts are labeled by “Country of Origin.” However, “mixed” shipments — say 20,000 U.S. muskrats and 50,000 Canadian ranch mink — are shipped from Toronto to China and the USDA would view this as a Canadian export.
There has never been a better time than now for the U.S. government, particularly our Department of Agriculture, to step up to the plate. They owe it to us. We, the free and independent trappers, without any government assistance, are protecting the farmers, the ranchers, timber companies, the environment and the general health and welfare of the nation. Beyond that, each year we are producing a valuable agriculture product, putting needed money into the local economies. Without the freedoms to do what we do and without ongoing viable markets, the taxpayers will soon be carrying the burden. Tell that to your lawmakers.