The National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) of the US Department of Agriculture has issued its latest annual report on mink production in the U.S., up to the 2006 crop year, sold at auction in February and May of 2007. (Click here for the latest NASS stats – PDF format).
Released on July 13, the report includes statistics on mink pelt production, females bred by color class, the number of mink farms, and the average price and total market value of pelts.
The sustained revival of interest in fur, and competition among apparel manufacturers for limited supplies of prime pelts, saw strong auction prices and another increase in breeding for this year’s crop. However, as strong as this year’s auction prices were, they could not match the spectacular levels set last year.
According to NASS, mink production in the US rose sharply in 2006 to 2.86 million pelts, up from 2.64 million in 2005. But despite the increase in volume, the auction value of $135.8 million was down from $160.6 million. It should be noted, however, that the 2005 crop was the most valuable since 1987, and that the 2006 crop still sold for 15% more than 2004’s production.
The average pelt price for the 2006 crop was $47.50, compared with the record high of $60.90 a year earlier. The average price over the five-year period 2002-06 was $45.33, up 43% from the $31.72 average over the preceding five years.
NASS data also indicate the industry’s continuing consolidation as smaller operations merge to form larger ones, and multiple operations by individual families come together under a single corporate umbrella. Over the five-year period 2002-06, the number of U.S. mink farms fell by 16%, while average pelt production per farm rose 31%.
Pelts Per Female Bred Up Again
Females bred to produce kits in 2006 totaled 654,070, for an average of 4.37 kits per breeding. This was up from 4.1 in 2005, and represented a continuation of the general upward trend of recent years.
Uncontrollable factors such as weather impact the survivability of litters, but the steady increase in recent years is a clear indicator of the importance mink farmers place on animal welfare standards. Larger litters with higher survival rates are consistent with quality care, and are also more cost-effective for farmers.
Reflecting the strong market for mink pelts, NASS notes that 684,640 female mink were bred to produce kits in 2007, up from 654,070 the year before. If the same number of pelts per breeding is achieved this year as last, this will result in total production of 2.99 million pelts, or an increase of about 4.7%.
That said, veteran fur reporter Sandy Parker has suggested US mink production might actually decline for the first time in several years (Sandy Parker Reports, July 9, 2007).
The breeding season generally went well, he reported, but many farms encountered unfavorable weather in late April, as whelping was at its peak. “Abnormally high temperatures in the final week of that month in such major mink production areas as Utah and Wisconsin – combined with high wind conditions there – are said to have resulted in large losses of kits,” he wrote. This and other factors are estimated by some to have resulted in the loss of as many as 400,000 kits.
Consolidation Trend Continues
The total number of U.S. mink farms reporting to NASS fell in 2006, from 275 to 271, continuing a long-running trend.
In parallel with this fall, however, individual farms have steadily raised productivity as they follow the trend towards consolidation and greater efficiency seen in the U.S. farming sector as a whole. The average farm in 2006 produced 10,547 pelts, up sharply from 9,486 in 2005. Just a decade ago, in 1996, 449 farms produced an average of 6,199 pelts, and in 1986, 989 farms produced an average of 4,142 pelts.
The leading state by number of farms in 2006 was Wisconsin with 68, one more than the year before. It thereby replaced Utah at the top, with the number of farms in that state shrinking by four to 66, following the loss of 10 the year before.
Wisconsin also ranked top in terms of output, as in previous years. In 2006 it produced 885,100 pelts, up 13.8% from the year before, continuing a marked upward trend in that state going back to 2001 when it produced 672,000. Utah ranked second with 622,840 pelts in 2006, up 3.8% from the year before despite the drop in number of farms. Underscoring the significance of this statistic is the fact that last year’s production was up by even more – 7.4% – from 2004, when Utah had 80 farms.
These two states continued their dominance of US mink production, accounting for 52.8% of total output. The next four largest producers, Oregon, Minnesota, Idaho and Iowa, accounted for a combined 30.5%.
Black Mink Dominance Grows
Relative outputs of individual color phases by and large followed the same pattern as in previous years, but the dominance of black (formerly known as “standard”) continues to grow.
In 1998, black accounted for 40.5% of output, following which its relative importance declined to as low as 37% in 2002. In 2006, it accounted for 48.8% of output, up 1.2% from the year before.
Other major colors produced were mahogany (20.7% of total output), blue iris (10.5%), demi-wild (6.1%), Sapphire (3.7%), and white (4.4%).