Fur prices may lag this season

Honeoye, N.Y. — The 2015-2016 trapping season will likely be one to remember for New York trappers – and not necessarily based on how full their fur shed is or isn’t. Rather, trappers are going to remember this season for the difficult, and more often than not miserable fur market conditions.

The factors that go into fur sales are wide ranging, including weather, furbearer populations, buyer and seller speculation and many others. Perhaps the most interesting dynamic is the economic impact of the nations involved in buying, processing and selling pelts. And that’s exactly where this year’s challenges stem from – particularly the Russian economy and international relations. 

North American Fur Association (NAFA), the continent’s largest fur clearing house, recently canceled its September fur sale, largely due to the lack of interest triggered by the anticipation of minimal to no participation from Russia. 

Hermann Jansen, Managing Director at NAFA, said 

“It is clear to most observers that the economy in Russia, because of the Western sanctions and the drop in oil prices, which brought a 60 percent decline to the value of the Russian Ruble, is having a worse than expected effect on Russian buying power,” NAFA managing director Hermann Jansen said.

Also contributing from a geo-political perspective is the economic collapse of Greece. While much smaller than Russia in terms of pelts processed or purchased, Greece historically is actively involved in the market, but that involvement is not expected in any meaningful volume this season, according to NAFA officials.

More than any other furbearer, raccoon has borne the brunt of the market’s challenges, with stockpiles existing at nearly every level of the industry, from the trapper to the buyer, auction house and processor. In prior years buyers from China purchased raccoon furs not consumed by Russian processors and used it to trim women’s garments. That fashion trend has since stalled in China, leaving no appreciable buyer for the pelts. 

Despite the doom and gloom outlook presented by the industry’s juggernauts, some furbearers are selling well. Coyote leads the way largely due to “its popularity in the garment trim trade, which is exclusively centered in North America and western Europe,” Jansen said. A typical New York pelt fetched nearly $26 on average at NAFA’s most recent auction and that price range is expected to stay flat. 

Muskrat, while off the significant amounts fetched a few seasons ago, continues to sell at 100 percent of offerings at auction in the $4 range. Both species are plentiful in the state, with New York muskrats generally regarded as having some of the highest quality pelts within the species. Therefore, pricing should trend toward the higher end of average ranges for Empire State trappers.

Within New York, responses from trappers to these market conditions are generally low-key – they’ve gone through low prices and sales volumes before. “When this happens, I always tell trappers it’s a good year to get out there and enjoy the sport,” said Bob Hughes, who serves as auctioneer for many of New York’s largest fur auctions, including those at the Genesee Valley Trapper’s Association in Honeoye (Ontario County).

Hughes noted that most trappers knew going into this season that the fur market would be a tough one to endure. “Lower volumes were starting to be seen at the various auctions at the end of last season,” Hughes said. “The auctions were wrapping up by one o’clock in the afternoon, whereas they’d go until midnight previously.”

In discussions with other trappers, Hughes knows that trappers will be out there testing out new lures or techniques they might not otherwise be willing to try in strong fur market years. 

“I think trappers will also be a little more vigilant with their efforts toward certain species and times,” he said. “Many will focus on muskrats and coyotes, and they’ll wait until the fur is prime to really set the bulk of their trap line to increase the chances their fur sells.”

With the September auction cancellation, NAFA expects to kick off this season’s wild fur schedule with its historically large-volume auction Jan. 31, 2016. Subsequent auctions are planned for April 5 and May 31 next year.

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