Honeoye, N.Y. — New York’s trappers this past season forged through tough weather conditions and a less than favorable fur market in what could be described as a challenging year.
The wild fur world market is currently challenging many of the typical North American species, each facing a variety of factors keeping sale prices low and even preventing furs from selling altogether.
It’s the result of global-level economics trickling down to the trappers’ wallet. Leading the way is the current state of Russian political and economic conditions, which have included assassinations and falling oil prices.
Historically, Russia is one of the most important fur consuming, manufacturing, and trading centers in the world. In fact, it’s so prominent many wild pelts purchased by buyers from other countries often end up in Russia after processing. China is a major supplier of manufactured furs to Russia, and as a result buyers there have begun to constrict their purchasing behavior.
The impact from this eventually finds its way to fur auctions.
John Rockwood, president of the New York State Trappers Association (NYSTA), believes in addition to the economic conditions, the weather was a challenge for trappers this season.
“The cold temperatures and snow this winter resulted in furbearers not moving much,” he said. “For trappers, the weather made it difficult to work in, with traps freezing, and the ground and ice difficult to work through.”
Raccoon pelts were largely removed from the sales table at NAFA’s large January auction since they are tied to Russian consumption. Paired with a large sale of 350,000 raccoon furs to Chinese buyers in September 2014, there may be little interest in the species until the stockpiles at processors dwindle.
Locally, raccoon pelts fetched a $5 average at the Genesee Valley Trappers Association’s March auction and averaged $7 across the association’s four auctions this season, which is promising considering the global state of the pelt; this may indicate buyers have confidence sales interest could increase.
Beaver pelts cleared approximately 65 percent at NAFA and were generally restricted to the heavier, shearing-quality offerings, selling in the $18 range. Commercial beaver selections did not sell or attracted minimal pricing. In New York, beaver attracted buyers at a strong $18; however, this was likely the result of higher quality pelts representing the average sale lot.
A few species moved through the market without sales issues, notably muskrat, one of New York’s staple furbearers. Muskrat pelts continue to sell fully, albeit at a slightly lower price point on the world stage – in the neighborhood of $5-$6. Within New York, trappers are averaging $6-$7 due to high quality.
According to NAFA, the muskrat pelts now being sold are geared toward use as liners within garment trim, which for the past few years has been dominated by Korean and Chinese buyers. The average price is off from prior years, especially last season when the same pelts fetched double-digits each.
A fur that was worth $10 last year and $6 this year can cause some trappers to think twice about their trap lines, especially in the tough weather, Rockwood said.
Other trim-focused pelts, such as canines, also performed well in the current industry conditions. NAFA cleared 70 percent of red fox pelts at its January sale, with better qualities and desired colors fetching premiums. However, flatter and basic selections sold poorly, creating wide average ranges between $19 and $32 each. Red and gray fox within New York hovered between $20-$22 during most of this season’s auctions.
NAFA believes the final rounds of fur auctions for 2014-15 should offer slightly improved pricing for the species that encountered challenges on the world stage. Also projected to help is a slightly colder than average Chinese winter, which often drives sales of fur for heavy garment use.
Within New York, Rockwood expected the 2014-15 season will be remembered for tough weather. “Trappers have always had to face the elements, but this year has indeed been a challenge,” he said. “Still, most everyone got out and had some memorable catches. Many of those catches mean more, too, because they overcame the elements.”