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Mink ranchers struggling to survive as pelt prices plummet

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SOUTHWESTERN N.S. – Not so long ago, top-notch mink pelts were fetching over $100 each on the worldwide market. Now the price is little more than a tenth of that.

Mink farming

The impact translates into job losses that may approach 500 in the tri-counties.

Dan Mullen, former president of the Nova Scotia Mink Breeders Association, says at least 350 people have been laid off to date.

“Many part-time jobs are lost for summer seasonal work, plus feed and pelt processing jobs,” he says.

“Businesses in the community will inevitably struggle, if not cease to exist. This is going to be very tough on the region.  An explosion of UI claims, could also lead to higher welfare roles.

“I know, personally, I am liquidating whatever assets I can to eliminate payments, or to free up cash,” he said.

North American Fur Auctions recently completed its first major fur auction and results confirmed predictions of a dismal market. Lack of buyer demand from China and Russia made it difficult for most items to sell at all.

READ MORE ABOUT FACTORS IMPACTING THE MINK INDUSTRY

Clare warden Ronnie LeBlanc confirms the seriousness of the situation for mink farmers.

“There were a lot of people who got into it when it was at its peak,” he says. “If you look at how well the industry was doing a few years back, the spinoff it was creating… the jobs, the tractor and car sales, all of that has been impacted.”

Mullen pelted out his 4,000-breeder herd and will not restock until market conditions improve. That could be one year or as long as three.  He laid off four full-time employees and has no idea what he will do to provide for his family.

“Job prospects are limited,” he says. “I am doing everything I can to survive two years, so I can be positioned to get back in.”

Mink farms in the tri-counties are in varying degrees of trouble. Most have reduced breeding herd numbers, preparing to get through to the next year. There are at least two bankruptcies in the industry and more may be coming.

Mullen knows of at least 10 farmers who have “pelted out.” He says some of those are due to the inability to comply with the province’s Fur Act. The biggest factor is the lack of financing to feed another crop of mink.

Most mink produced last year do not go to auction until later this month and many farmers do not know if their lines of credit will be paid off, or if they will be left with large unpaid balances. 

Those still with mink have to start breeding them in early March or lose an entire year of production.

“This is something we face that most other livestock producers do not, making cash flow difficult even in the best of times,” Mullen says. “Banks and lenders are going case by case, but will necessarily pick winners and losers.”

What’s happening now is part of a normal 10-year cycle with this low point being a particularly bad one, Mullen says.

“South Korea continues to have a very strong retail market,” he says. “If there is a silver lining to all this, the goal for those that survive is to have a nucleus of breeders available for restocking our farms that are healthy producers. But, most importantly, they must be of the highest quality.”

He believes a rebound is inevitable. Mink farmers, he says, have seen a decline in prices once a decade for the past 60 years.

How long it takes to get rid of the inventory glut, and how quickly world mink production declines, is the question. Mullen estimates one to three years could be the extent of the slump.

 

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Representatives from Farm Credit Canada recently met with the Nova Scotia Mink Breeders Association. FCC loans to the fur-bearing industry across the country total $39.5 million and involve almost 90 customers.

While the numbers are relatively small compared to FCC’s entire portfolio, a spokesperson says the mink industry is still significant to Nova Scotia.

“We have a good understanding of the multiple challenges members are facing,” says spokesman Trevor Sutter.

“We understand the cyclical nature of this business, so we’re going to do what we can to help producers get through this difficult time.”

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