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Live Mic: Coronavirus biting down on Utah mink farms

Mink breeding farm interior in rural Denmark. (Photo credit: Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY — The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has nearly shut down Utah mink farms.

Clayton Beckstead, Utah Farm Bureau Northeastern regional manager, joined Lee Lonsberry on Live Mic. They discussed how COVID-19 is impacting Utah mink farms and farmers and the industry as a whole.

“Man, this coronavirus has just been detrimental to our industry,” Beckstead said. “The majority of our products go overseas to China. So with all the travel restrictions and lockdowns in place, we haven’t been able to sell any of our products.”

“So you can imagine what that’s done to the fur industry economically. These family farms are being impacted in a big way,” said Beckstead, who is a fourth-generation farmer.

Fur facts

In Utah, there are about 65 mink farms ranging from Cache County in the north to Mona in Juab County in the south, Beckstead said.

That’s down from 121 in 1997, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

After Wisconsin, Utah is the second largest mink producing state.

More than 85 percent of pelts used in the world’s fur trade come from small, family-run farms. Approximately 275 U.S. mink farms in 23 states produced about 3 million pelts annually in 2013, with a value of more than $300 million, according to Fur Commission USA.

Beckstead stressed that Utah mink farms are multigenerational family operations.

Virtual auctions don’t allow for product inspection

“Is there any hope that once the dam breaks, once we are through this storm, that you’ll be made whole again?” Lee asked.

“We’ve tried to do some virtual auctions,” Beckstead replied. “Haven’t seen a ton of success with that just because the buyers can’t come in and inspect the goods.

“It’s pretty difficult to buy something that you can’t touch, feel, and see and be comfortable with purchasing. It has created some real issues that we’re trying to work through. We weren’t prepared for such a pandemic. Right now we are just hanging tight and sitting on the product,” Beckstead said.

“Anything in the CARES [Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security] Act that is helpful to you folks?” Lee asked.

“At this exact moment, no. They’re [the federal government] definitely hearing from the fur industry. We’re trying to get fur on that list [of federal aid to businesses] along with many other Utah agricultural products that are being impacted,” Beckstead said.

Stats on U.S and global fur industry

Each year, around 100 million animals are bred and killed on fur farms. The pelts supply the fashion industry with traditional fur coats and, increasingly, real fur trim for hooded jackets. The pelts are also used for real fur pompoms on hats, gloves, shoes and a range of other clothing and accessories. It’s estimated that as many as half of all animals raised for their fur are killed to satisfy the market for fur trim, according to Humane Society International.

In China in 2014,  60 million mink, 13 million foxes, and 14 million raccoon dogs were bred and killed on fur farms. The European Union indicates that 42.6 million mink, 2.7 million foxes, 155,000 raccoon dogs and 206,000 chinchillas are killed for fur, according to Humane Society.

The mink farming business says that nothing is wasted. The fat is rendered into mink oil that is used to protect and waterproof leather, as well as in the cosmetic industry and now sometimes to produce bio-fuels. The rest of the carcass, with the manure and soiled bedding (straw or shavings) is composted to produce organic fertilizers, according to Truth About Fur.

Live Mic with Lee Lonsberry can be heard weekdays from 12:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app.