Nova Scotia mink industry facing financial disaster
Prized pelt that costs $50 to produce, sold for $100 last year but is now down to $40 or less
Nova Scotia's once booming mink industry has hit hard times in 2014 with a 60 per cent price drop.
"With it dropping so dramatically, it may potentially put some out of business," says Dan Mullen president of the N.S. Mink Breeders Association.
The prized pelt that costs $50 to produce, sold for $100 last year but is now down to $40 or less.
Dan Mullen says this goes beyond the usual ups and downs.
"This was so deep and so significant. Once you go below the cost of production that puts a severe strain on the industry," he tells CBC News.
Taxpayers to the rescue
The situation is so serious it has triggered more than $20 million in federal and provincial disaster assistance under the Agri-Stability Program.
News of Nova Scotia's $9 million payout only emerged Thursday when the Province released its third quarter fiscal update.
N.S. agriculture risk manager Peggy Weatherby says 93 of 96 Nova Scotia producers have applied for assistance under the program, which is open to any agricultural sector experiencing a commodity price collapse of 30 per cent or more.
Farmers also pay into the program.
Weak demand and a disease combine
Mullen says the Nova Scotia industry is being hit by old fashioned economics and a stubborn virus.
There is a world-wide oversupply and weaker demand, due in part because a warm winter in China left a big inventory.
Secondly, to avoid an Aleutian Disease — an endemic virus that hits black furred minks particularly hard - many farmers are switching to the more resistant but less valuable brown furred variety.
Mullen estimates at least 75 per cent of farms have the virus.
"It was kind of bad timing. Although more resistant to the disease it brings a lot less money, profitability wise," he said.
He predicts some farms won't make it.
"We're really in a state of flux right now. We're not sure where its going."
It's a sharp reverse for an industry that was once Nova Scotia's leading farm export worth $140 million a year.
In January, the first international sales of the latest pelt harvest will indicate where the market is going and whether 2015 is another bad year.
It's already facing more stringent - some say long overdue - environmental rules relating to handling of waste.
"I would say there are not a lot of positives for the year...I think it will take another year for the world market to turn around," Mullen said.