Auction Value of 2007 U.S. Mink Crop Shatters Record
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 2007 crop year, sold at auction in February and May of 2008. (Click here for the latest NASS stats – PDF format).
Released on July 11, 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.
According to NASS, mink production in the US totaled 2.83 million pelts in 2007. This was down 1% from the year-before level of 2.86 million, but when viewed against the backdrop of the last few years, was in keeping with a trend towards increased production. The last year in which 2007 output was surpassed was 1998, at 2.94 million pelts, while the 3 million mark was last broken back in 1991.
The sustained resurgence of interest in fur, and competition among apparel manufacturers for limited supplies of premium North American mink, resulted in record prices at auction, surpassing by a sizable margin the bumper year of 2005.
Despite what basically amounted to unchanged output, the auction value of the 2007 crop surged 34% over a year before to $185.8 million, and smashed the previous record of $160.6 million earned in 2005.
Also demolished was the average pelt price record. In 2005 the bar was set at $60.90. In 2007 it was raised to $65.70. Meanwhile the average price over the five-year period 2003-07 came to $52.67, up 69% from the $31.20 average over the preceding five years.
Pelts Per Breeding Slip Back
Females bred to produce kits in 2007 totaled 696,088, for an average of 4.06 kits per breeding surviving to pelting time. This was down from 4.37 in 2006, and represented a set-back from the upward trend of recent years.
Reporting a year ago, veteran industry watcher Sandy Parker predicted as much (Sandy Parker Reports, July 9, 2007). Many farms had encountered abnormally high temperatures and high wind conditions in late April, the peak of the whelping season, resulting in large losses of kits. This and other factors, he wrote, were estimated by some to have resulted in the loss of as many as 400,000 kits.
Meanwhile, NASS reports that the number of females bred to produce kits in 2008 was down slightly at 691,170. If the same number of pelts per breeding is achieved this year as last (4.06), this will result in total production of 2.81 million pelts, or a drop of about 0.8% from 2007. According to Sandy Parker, however, early indications were that “U.S. mink production will be off by 3% to 5%” (Sandy Parker Reports, July 14, 2008).
Consolidation Trend Bottoming Out?
NASS data serve as an indicator of the industry’s contraction, and then consolidation, over the last several decades. While many operations simply closed down in the late ’80s and early ’90s, there has also been a trend of smaller operations merging to form larger ones, or combining under single corporate umbrellas for business and reporting purposes.
Between 1988 and 1998, the total number of farms fell from 1,027 to 438, and the decline continued until 2005 when just 275 reported to NASS.
Since then, however, the numbers have started to edge up, to 279 in 2006 and 283 in 2007. Only time will tell if this is an anomaly, or the start of a new period of growth brought about by strong pelt prices.
Meanwhile, farms that have stayed in operation have shown a steady rise in productivity resulting from economies of scale, greater efficiency, and a sophisticated understanding among farmers of the welfare needs of their livestock.
In 2007, the average farm produced 9,993 pelts. Though this was down from the 2006 average of 10,275, it was in keeping with a steep upward trend over the long term. In 1998, the average farm produced 6,708 pelts, and in 1988, just 4,336.
Over the five-year period 2003-2007, the number of mink farms fell by 7%, while average pelt production per farm rose 19%.
Wisconsin, Utah Continue Domination
For the second year in a row, the leading state by number of farms in 2007 was Wisconsin with 71, up two from the year before. Former front-runner Utah stabilized at 65, down one from 2006, having fallen by 10 in 2005.
Wisconsin also ranked top in terms of output, as in previous years, but with the margin growing ever larger. In 2007, it produced 914,100 pelts, up 2.7% from the year before. This expansion dates back to 2001, when the state produced 672,000 pelts. Second-placed Utah, meanwhile, saw production slip 3.9% in 2007, to 599,430.
These two states continued their long-standing domination of US mink production, accounting for 53.5% of total output, up 0.7% from the year before. The next four largest producers, Oregon, Idaho, Minnesota, and Iowa, accounted for a combined 30.2%.
Black Mink Popularity Rises Further
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 2007, it accounted for 51.7%, up 3% from the year before.
Other major colors produced, all down slightly from 2006, were mahogany 20%, blue iris 9.8%, demi/wild 5.1%, white 3.7%, and sapphire 3.6%.
(See also US Mink: State of the industry – 2008, FCUSA commentary, May 25, 2008)