Prices remain high, as do the hopes of the industry
By Colin MacLean, The Telegram
Things are looking up for Newfoundland and Labrador fur breeders. Demand for fox and mink furs is up, as are prices, and thanks to a surging Chinese demand for pelts, so is the hopes of the province’s breeders.
“Fur, in general, is gone up,” said Merv Wiseman, a Newfoundland fur breeder and past-president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Fur Breeders Association.
“It’s been up, I suppose, for the last five or six years, but for the last two or three years it’s been exceptionally high. The prices are great.”
Catherine Moores, current president of the association, concurs. Worldwide demand is higher than it’s ever been, she said, and production has increased to meet that demand.
“We are in much much better shape then we were three or four years ago,” she said.
“Obviously there is always room to grow, but I deeply believe that there is a bright bright future for the fur industry in our province.”
Over the past several years, fox pelts have been selling in Helsinki, Finland for an average of $120 per pelt, and this past Christmas prices shot up to $180 per pelt.
Mink fur prices have also remained consistently higher than average.
“You know if we’re in the range of $200 we’re doing exceptionally well,” said Wiseman, who breeds foxes exclusively.
The fur industry can be exceptionally volatile in terms of prices, he said, so steady high prices are all the more welcome.
“There’d be dramatic swings, too — it wouldn’t be just slight variations here or there, it used to be quite dramatic, you know?”
With relatively steady markets in recent years, Wiseman figures Newfoundland and Labrador’s 25-fur-breeding operations have been quite profitable.
No estimates on how much the industry is worth were readily available.
However, there was a slight dip in profits a couple of years ago, Wiseman said, mainly because of producers starting up in China, but that decrease didn’t last long.
China just can’t compete in the industry, he said, which is all the better for this province.
“(China) found they were producing a really inferior quality of pelt, so consequently production they were putting on themselves is starting to wane, and they are falling off the radar in terms of production,” said Wiseman.
The single largest expense in breeding animals for their fur is good-quality feed, and that’s something that is a bit easier to find here in Atlantic Canada than it is in China.
“In order to compete properly when you’re producing fur, you have to really be endowed with a good feed,” Wiseman said. “Here, we’re so well endowed with raw materials from chicken abattoirs, slaughterhouses, fish plants and all these kinds of things, we certainly haven’t had that problem. They can’t compete with us on that basis alone.”
But despite their inability to break into fur breeding themselves, the Chinese love wearing furs. Moores estimates the growing middle and upper classes in China now represent about 60 per cent of fur buyers.
But competition from China has not been the only challenge for the industry here.
Fur farming grew rapidly in 2003 and 2004 as a result of government initiatives, but this rapid growth caused problems, said Moores, who operates Numink Inc. in Cox’s Cove.
A lot of the proper environmental initiatives weren’t in place at the time and there were issues with waste management and, consequently, pest control.
“So there were some environmental issues, but we have worked through the majority of those,” said Moores.
With these growing pains out of the way, the association has now turned its attention towards securing the long-term viability of the industry.
Moores sees a large part of that viability being connected to ethical animal care and insuring that mink and foxes raised for fur are treated as humanely as possible. To that end, the fur breeding industry in Canada is in the midst of reviewing its code of practice. The current system was implemented in 1986 and is in need of upgrading, said Moores. It is expected the new code of practice will take effect in late 2012 while a provincial initiative to update local standards is in the final stages.
“What you’re seeing now and what you’re going to continue to see is the countries that will continue to raise mink and fox or fur in general are going to have to have standards in place and we’re going to be able to demonstrate that we are raising the animals humanely,” Moores said.
“Costumers are starting to demand that and they’re going to continue to demand that.”
Animal rights groups have succeeded in banning fur farming in some European countries and demand for pelts continues to drop in Europe as a whole. In the face of these pressures, the Newfoundland fur breeding industry needs to respond to the concerns, said Moores.
“Although the global market for fur, especially mink, is very strong, the anti-fur movement by animal rights groups remains a threat. It is increasingly important for the fur industry to be able to demonstrate to the public, and provide confidence to the consumer, that animals are being raised and harvested humanely,” she said.