Mink pelt prices have plummeted recently, following years of sustained growth, according to Fur Commission USA Executive Director Michael Whelan.
Last season, Whelan said major auction returns showed U.S. producers increased production by about 22 percent from the prior year on strong foreign demand, and prices rose 10-15 percent, with high-quality, short-nap black pelts fetching $120-$180 each. Mink prices peaked at nearly triple their 2008 levels.
Based on the first two North American sales of this season, hosted in February and late March, Whelan said U.S. mink production is up about 10 percent, with global production expected to set a record at roughly 80 million pelts. Prices have dropped 30-40 percent, which Whelan attributes mostly to a warm winter in China, where mink has been in strong demand by a growing middle class. Three more large mink sales are scheduled for this season.
“Last year’s prices were spectacular, but they were unsustainable, and everybody suspected a correction,” Whelan said.
Whelan said China experienced a bitter-cold winter two year’s ago that exhausted the nation’s mink inventory. The Chinese aggressively bought North American mink pelts to restock, Whelan said.
Temperatures in Shanghai, remained in the 60s into last December, however, and demand fell as China had doubled its mink production. Whelan said there’s always demand for North American mink, which tend to rank among the top 5-10 percent for quality, but Chinese mink farmers, who yield a lower-grade product, have taken a significant hit.
“The premium blacks are still getting upwards of $70-$90 per pelt. Others are going for $55-$70. It’s nothing like it was last year,” Whelan said, adding the break-even point for producers is $30-$40.
He believes other buyers, including from Greece and Eastern Europe, that were priced out of the market by the Chinese have now returned this season. Despite the price dip, Whelan said U.S. mink farmers are pleased they’re still selling 100 percent of their inventory.
Furthermore, sales are up 10 percent in North America, which experienced a much colder winter, and the U.S. sets global fashion trends. He said the industry is “doubling down” on the U.S. market, where he expects a “fur resurgence” will occur during the next few years.
Last July, Idaho produced 370,000 pelts and passed Oregon, which produced 360,000 pelts, as the nation’s No. 3 mink state. Third-generation mink farmer Jeff Hobbs, of Franklin, Idaho, said Idaho’s mink industry has experienced steady growth in recent years, much of it due to mink ranchers moving in from Utah, where development is encroaching into rural country. His own farm made a significant production increase just before the market took off and has made incremental increases since then.
“The plans are this year to be careful, but this will cycle through,” Hobbs said. “It’s like other agriculture. It cycles. It’ll turn. There are more designers using fur than ever before.”