Foreign demand boosts mink production

John O'Connell/Capital Press Preston mink rancher Lew Palmer holds a mink at his facility. Prices have been good for mink pelts in recent years, and a recent USDA report shows Idaho production is up 19 percent.

Idaho 2011 pelt numbers up 19 percent from 2010

By JOHN O'CONNELL

Capital Press

PRESTON, Idaho -- When business slowed at Burbank Plumbing, owner Stuart Burbank took a second job in an industry with stronger demand.

The Preston man said mink ranching allows him to be his own boss and to work with his sons. It doesn't hurt that prices for mink pelts are at record highs.

Increased foreign demand is fueling the growth, experts say.

According to a report issued July 6 by the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service, Idaho's mink production, at 308,260 pelts in 2011, increased 19 percent from 2010, and the state's female mink bred to produce kits is up 20 percent this year at 78,900.

Idaho is the nation's third-largest mink producer behind Wisconsin and Utah.

Oregon was the fourth largest mink-producing state in 2011, yielding 262,900 pelts, and Washington, ranked eighth in production for the year, yielded 82,500 pelts.

Nationally, 3.09 million mink pelts were produced in 2011, up 9 percent from the prior year, and female mink bred to produce kits were also up 9 percent at 769,970. The average price paid for a U.S. pelt for the 2011 crop year was $94.30, up $12.40 from 2010. Mink farms producing pelts in 2011 totaled 268, up 1 percent from the prior year.

Burbank had helped friends breed mink and remove pelts as a side job and opted to buy his own animals and an old mink farm to restore.

"Whenever I decide to do something different than what I'm doing, it seems I always turn to animals," Burbank said.

Like most established producers, Lew Palmer, also of Preston, has grown his operation in recent years. In 2010, he upped his pelt production from 5,000 to 7,000, and he intends to increase production by another 20 percent next season. He also rents out a shed to a new producer.

Palmer, who took the business over from his father, said production has returned to the levels of the early 1990s, before the industry fell on hard times, forcing him to get a second job as a banker. He's been mink farming full time again for the past five years.

"There are mink ranches going up all over," Palmer said, adding several new producers in Franklin County, Idaho, were displaced by residential pressure in other major mink states such as Utah and Oregon.

Palmer attributes much of the strong prices and demand for mink to emerging wealthy classes in China and Russia.

Third-generation mink farmer Jeff Hobbs, of Franklin, said recent cold winters and an increased emphasis on mink by designers have also fueled demand.

"There are more designers using fur in their lineup than we've ever seen," Hobbs said.

Production costs are now less than half of pelt values, which have increased more than 30 percent during the past five years, said Michael Whelan, executive director of Fur Commission USA. He said access to vaccines and feed, however, limits a producer's ability to expand.

Palmer and Hobbs are both members of a mink farmer-owned company, called FBAC, that procures animal proteins to use for mink feed, such as beef byproducts and cheese or eggs rejected for human consumption.

"Management is out trying to procure more (feed), and right now it looks like the expansion (of the industry) will continue," Hobbs said.

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