Fur prices take welcome jump

Honeoye, N.Y. — Trappers in New York are benefiting from a widely-improved global fur market in what’s considered to be one of the best years for pelt prices in recent memory.

Prices at auctions around the state and internationally during the 2011-12 season have been streaking upward on nearly every furbearer species,giving the industry a much-needed boost.

North American Fur Auctions (NAFA), the world’s biggest fur auction clearinghouse, experienced full clearance of its wild fur offering at its large annual auction Feb. 20-21 in Toronto, Ontario. The organization noted that the full clearance was its first in several years and cited the increasing use of fur in fashion trends that has trickled down to the end consumer.

Adding to the swelling prices is stronger competition among fur-buying countries due to the influx of new countries entering the marketplace such as Belarus and Ukraine, which did not previously have a presence in the bidding process.
Within New York state, trappers are pleased with local and regional auctions – the largest of which was held by the Genesee Valley Trappers Association (GVTA) on Feb. 19. Bob Hughes, auctioneer for GVTA and several other associations around the state, believes this year is one for the record books.

“Fur prices have been unheard of in some instances,” he said. “Many trappers are reporting personal bests with their price averages, and when that happens across the board for new and old trappers, that means it has been a good season.”

Canine prices responded aggressively to significant demand and increasing high fashion use. Red fox averaged an impressive $31.86 at the GVTA auction and also hit a new high for the species at NAFA. Coyote pelts leveled at $27.91 as the better quality furs saw intense demand via the trim trade. Grey fox, while not carrying as heavy demand, managed a respectable $25.53 each due to low trapper submissions.

Raccoon trended higher despite large stockpiles throughout the market chain. NAFA had originally expressed some reservations about the fur heading into its February auction; however, the clearinghouse sold its entire 365,000 lot of furs. State trappers earned a solid $10.24 average at GVTA, with a significant portion of submissions selling green rather than put-up. “Buyers look for green fur sometimes because they have a producer who prefers to put up fur with their own uniform standards,” Hughes said. “Still, the put-up furs at auction tend to carry the better average.”

Wild mink prices have been booming for the entire season and saw an average of $20.18, which is noteworthy considering the differences in pelt value based on gender, with males being worth more. Prices of wild mink usually trend after the ranch mink market movement, and since ranch mink prices have been elevated, current wild mink price levels will continue.

Muskrat continued to stay at unusually elevated prices, with an $11.60 average. Prices for the furbearer rose tremendously early in the season due to low stockpiles and steady demand. Because New York’s muskrats are arguably the highest quality offering within the marketplace, Empire State trappers who targeted the species have had an exceptional selling season.

“Some of the prices being paid for muskrat at local auctions have been the result of buyers who simply cannot get their hands on enough ’rat pelts and are forced to compete,” Hughes said. “I averaged almost $15 each on a lot of 17 muskrats in Honeoye (the GVTA auction). That’s the best price I’ve ever earned for a muskrat and I’ve caught quite a few in my time.”

Quality fisher and marten pelts fetched close to and even surpassed triple digit prices at NAFA, with averages of $94.43 and $116.26, respectively. That continued a trend of strong performance for both furs due to their high-fashion status. Otter also broke the $100 mark at NAFA, with a $102 average based on limited supply.

Beaver, which has been a price laggard in recent years due to a lack of international interest, has finally been caught up in the market-wide improvements. An average pelt fetched $24.71 – a notable increase over past performances.
Officials said the price increase likely resulted from buyers who became willing to purchase the fur despite expensive and time-consuming processing. “With other furs going up, buyers were able to buy beaver fur as a logical alternative because the cost and time could be absorbed with cheap labor in some countries like China,” Hughes said.

NAFA also recently instituted training within China to assist in streamlining beaver processing, and the move is paying dividends as Chinese buyers were large consumers of the fur at its auction, leaving the industry with a positive outlook for future beaver sales.

Beaver castor demand continued to support pro-trapper prices at an average of $43 per pound. Supply levels are expected to keep prices within this range for the short-term. “Most castor ends up in the hands of two or three producers nationwide,” Hughes said. “Quality castor is hard to find and buyers are simply willing to pay a premium for it.”

Hughes believes this season will wrap up just as the way it started – on a high note.

“I think trappers are going to finish this year out with a smile on their face. Good fur prices tend to do that. Any additional furs they haven’t sold yet will get good a good price when they do,” he said. “Most trappers are already looking forward to next year. I think it’ll be as good or even better.”

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