In recent weeks the most frequently asked question by country fur buyers and trappers has been: Will the market for raccoon hold?
That’s an understandable concern considering the raccoon is unquestionably our most valuable furbearer in terms of total dollars generated by the annual fur harvest.
Well, my crystal ball is just as cloudy as yours. I can’t predict the weather here at home beyond a few hours (usually hot and dry this time of the year) and certainly not the temperatures in Moscow or St. Petersburg in, say, December.
We know all too well what a mild winter in Russia, Eastern Europe and China will do to the flow of the raccoon harvest through the marketing chain. Large accumulations of pelts back up at the collection points and late-season raw fur prices suffer.
When garments move off the retailers’ racks during the winter selling season, securing replacements for the next season becomes a priority. While the fur dressing and garment fabrication time has been dramatically reduced in recent years, the fact remains that the window of opportunity for replacement inventories is only open for five to seven months.
So, assuming a typical winter in these consuming countries is in store, the outlook is good. In fact, it is real good. Why?
For that answer we need only to look at the unprecedented rapid economic growth of these developing countries.
Russians, unquestionably the largest per-capita consumers of furs in the world at the present time, are experiencing changes never before witnessed.
According to The Economist, a highly respected British business publication, the discretionary income of the average Russian has nearly doubled in five short years. Moreover, personal income is increasing by 10 percent per year, and this is expected to continue into the foreseeable future.
With this new found wealth, the average Russian’s lifestyle has increased dramatically. Due to the foreign capital flowing into the nation as a result of oil exports, Russian citizens with more disposable income are now buying cars, furs and durable goods at a startling pace. This too is expected to continue.
Equally as important are the new markets opening for our furs. This growth is not confined merely to Russia as it’s now beginning to spread quickly throughout Eastern Europe.
Estonia, Latvia, Georgia and specially Ukraine are becoming significant markets for our furs, particularly raccoon, natural beaver, gray fox and fisher.
Throughout Russia and Eastern Europe the vast majority of the lower cost and utilitarian furs will be dressed and manufactured in China. The more affluent consumers will be shopping the better department stores and high-end furriers offering wares made in Greece, Turkey, Korea and Italy.
Internal consumption of fur garments, fur-trimmed coats and accessories in China is difficult to determine from the data available.
Well over half of the annual fur harvest from all sources is purchased by Chinese fur traders. Additionally, Chinese domestic fur production is huge.
It has been reported that Chinese fur farms produce more ranch mink than Denmark, traditionally the world’s largest producer.
Due to the poorer quality of these ranch mink, most are apparently consumed domestically.
Huge quantities of wild furs are harvested each season by Chinese hunters and trappers. Items made from kolinsky — various Asian mustelids — and goope, a wild Asian canid resembling a coyote, are seldom, if ever, exported into Western markets.
Over three-quarters of all the wild fur garments manufactured in the world originate in China.
Culturally, fur is highly symbolic to the Chinese. While the Russians are presently the world’s largest consumers of furs, that could be a short lived distinction.
If the economic growth in Russia is impressive, the growth in China is white hot. We know the Chinese love of fur goes back centuries. Sea otter were once so valued that the word for it’s pelt translates into Chinese as “soft gold.”
Fur consumption is believed to be tremendous among those achieving wealth, and they’re growing in numbers each year.
So, let’s look at what is known about consumer trends in China: Last year 6.2 million new cars were sold, an increase of 20 percent over the previous year. Sales of expensive luxury cars increased 35 percent, while SUV sales increased 50 percent. GM sold more Buicks in China than in the U.S.
We are suffering this rapid growth in Russia and China here at home in the form of higher fuel prices. (Russians are buying 5 million new cars a year. Private auto ownership has increased from less than 50 units per 1,000 to 200 per 1,000 in five years).
No doubt the higher fuel cost necessary to maintaining an extensive trapline will seriously limit the amount of fur harvested this season. Just how short the harvest will be only time will tell. But, we do know that there’s a lot of people who desire our wild furs … and now they have the money to buy them.
Please FAX regional fur auction results to Parker at (501) 262-1582. Or, e-mail results to HeTraps@aol.com.
Discover new techniques for finding and trapping more fur, how to make the most of your catch with harvest trends and prices, skinning techniques that can increase the value of your furs and more all in Trapper & Predator Caller. Subscribe Now