Tuesday, January 31st, 2023
Tuesday, January 31st, 2023

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Trappers caught by surprise as fur prices edge upward

Hudson, Ill. – Muskrats turned out to be a hot commodity in the
2009-10 trapping season, as Illinois trappers welcomed the first
signs of a fur industry on the mend.

“If I’d have known, I would have tried a little harder to go
after more ‘rats,” said Paul Kelley, board president of the
Illinois Trappers Association.

In October, prior to the season, Kelley and other trapping
industry insiders expected muskrat pelts to sell for $2 to $3 a
piece.

“By the end of the fur auctions, they were going for $7 to $9,”
Kelley said. “Who could have known?”

It was a tumultuous year in the fur industry. The North American
Fur Auctions, the world’s largest fur clearing house, abruptly
canceled its annual January auction in lieu of an unprecedented
private treaty Internet sale – the result of low wild fur
quantities submitted by trappers and reduced expectations for fur
buyer attendance. The February auction was pushed back until
mid-March in hopes of attracting additional buyers.

The private treaty Internet sale featured fur buyers relying on
photographs and written descriptions via the Internet. NAFA
hand-picked lots of muskrat, beaver, coyote and raccoon from
trapper submissions to provide a uniform consistency. Results from
the sale appeared promising, with selected furs clearing above 70
percent for all four furbearers and prices jumping above last
year’s levels. The star of the auction was muskrat, whose pricing
rose sharply to a national average of $7.62 per pelt.

“When we canceled our January auction due to insignificant
quantities and the low expected buyer attendance, especially from
China, we realized this was a perfect opportunity to try a new
method of selling,” a NAFA statement read. “This offering was well
received by buyers and resulted in excellent demand and
clearance.”

Despite the encouraging prices, critics of the move questioned
its impact shortly after the event, believing it skewed the market
because lots were void of low- and top-end furs. In typical
auctions, low and top lot furs are included in price averages,
which are the highly watched numbers that comprise the foundation
of commerce within the fur trade.

Subsequent auctions held by Fur Harvesters, a major fur clearing
house, turned in advancing prices for all species, including those
sold in the private treaty Internet sale by NAFA.

The apparent hiccup within the industry was a backlog of furs
from previous seasons that had yet to be processed into garments.
With the reduced harvest numbers, the issue finally cleared itself
as the world economy began to show signs of stabilization and
growth. Since the barrier was resolved, prices immediately started
to improve. That certainly came as welcome news to trappers.”

Muskrat again served as the highlight of the show, fully
clearing at an $8.50 average. Beaver pelts landed at $21 each,
while raccoon held ranges of $13-$22 based on grading. Coyote
prices steadied in the $30-$35 range, and eastern red fox rose
noticeably above last season’s levels to $31. Gray fox performed
well, gaining buyer attention at $20 each.

In other Great Lakes states, otter, one of the most poorly
performing pelts over the past few seasons, returned to acceptable
pricing at an average of $42. Fisher remained a popular item for
buyers, with a typical fur selling at $62.

Wild mink, which are generally a precursor to muskrat prices,
rose to a $14 average, fueling some speculation there could be
additional room for muskrats.

Fur industry leaders credited the rebound to supply and demand.
Buyers are now purchasing because there is little speculation left
in the market since there are no more fur stockpiles. They can no
longer hold off on purchasing furs. The big key is that furs are
clearing at high percentages, meaning the economy is mending a bit
and buyers are expecting to process what they’ve bought.

Kelley pointed out that in Illinois, many trappers are also
farmers. The wet harvest season played a big part in the supply of
pelts for the state’s share of pelts.

“Fur prices were predicted to be down again, and farmers were
struggling to get crops out, so they chose to work on grain harvest
instead of trap,” said Kelley, who farms near Hudson.

“I’ve been trapping for 60 years and I only set a half-dozen
traps. Seeing how the market went, I sure as heck wish I’d have
spent more time trapping.”

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