Mateusz Perkowski/Capital Press File
U.S. mink production decreased by 4 percent in 2017, to a little over 3.3 million pelts, down about 149,000 from 2016.
Wisconsin, the largest pelt-producing state, harvested 56,130 fewer pelts for a total of about 1.091 million. Utah, the second-leading producer was, down 2,600 pelts to 734,260. Idaho, at No. 3, increased production by 36,000 pelts to 349,500, according to USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service.
But notable declines were also seen in Minnesota, down 30,000 pelts; Oregon, down 22,500; and Washington, down 11,080 pelts.
The decline is an adjustment from overproduction, Michael Whelan, executive director of Fur Commission USA in Medford, Ore., said.
Pelt prices in 2012 went through the roof, and mink ranchers ramped up production to take advantage of the market, he said.
“It’s totally understandable,” he said.
USDA statistics show U.S. pelt prices in 2011 averaged $94.30. The agency suspended the 2012 report due to federal budget sequestration, but Whelan said prices were about $100 a pelt.
Everyone knew that price wasn’t sustainable, he said, but if the price triples on any product, producers are going to make more of it.
U.S. production did increase, but it’s been pretty steady. China, however, increased production from 15 million pelts to 40 million pelts in one year, and global production increased from 40 million to 80 million pelts, he said.
Price declines followed, and U.S. production began to decline in 2015, according to USDA.
Low cost of production in the U.S. is about $30 a pelt, and prices have crept up enough to be a little above production costs, he said
Production and prices are just starting to get back to sustainable levels, Whelan said.
USDA reported the price of pelts in 2017 increased by $1.60 to $36.30. Despite lost production, the total value of U.S. pelt production increased slightly to almost $120 million.
But it was the third year in a row of low prices and tough times, especially for smaller producers. Mink production doesn’t have any price supports or subsidies, and prices can’t stay down for more than three or four years before producers have to make some changes on the ranch, he said.
They’re subject to the laws of supply and demand, and he expects production to decline again this year, he said.
USDA’s numbers support that expectation, as the number of female mink bred to produce kits was down 5 percent in 2018 to 731,430.
The agency also reported the color breakdown on the 2017 production. Black pelts accounted for 50 percent of production, mahogany for 19 percent, and blue iris and sapphire for 6 percent. The remaining color classes accounted for 12 percent.