Chinese stop playing possum with trappers

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Possum trappers can go bush again. With renewed Chinese interest, fur traders have resumed buying after a halt late last year.

The fur and skins provide interesting products for Wakatipu tourists. The big-end demand these days, however, comes from Chinese women home-knitting garments.

Peter Gray, of Gray Fur Trading, says Chinese orders halted from October to November then remained near-dormant. Now they are flowing.

In the three months traders stopped buying, many trappers took other jobs. The concern is whether they will return to the trap lines, says Gray, who has export orders for 12 tonnes of fibre.

Traders are paying trappers $90 to $95 a kilogram for possum fibre, down about 10 per cent from last winter.

This compares with a 30 or 40 per cent fall in wool prices and a 60 per cent fall in cashmere, another popular knitwear fibre.

“New companies in China are beginning to use possum, and that bodes well,” Gray says. “I think this may be a reasonable year. I don’t think there will be big jumps [in price] but there will be markets.”

Possum is in the high end of the market, which usually falls less in downturns.

Fibre accounts for the larger part of possum demand. Gray estimates processors used fibre from about 1.5 million possums last year. Another 200,000 – or fewer – provided skins that went into products such as bedspreads.

Most trappers hand pluck fur.

A few use machines but traders find it harder to sell machine-plucked fur. The machines can damage the fur and take off short fibre that fingers can’t grip. The short fibre falls out during carding and becomes waste.

Gray, based on the West Coast, also buys around the Wakatipu and Southland. He may pay a trapper $8 or $9 for fur from an animal.

He may pay $16 for a good skin, unplucked.

Best skins come from possums killed from July to September. In summer, fur is less likely to be blemished but is shorter, and skins yield heavier leather, which the trade doesn’t like.

Thor Davis, of Glenorchy Fur Products, says tourist demand for possum goods is down a little but not too badly given the world economic upheaval.

“We’re the same as everyone else. There’s a 10 or 15 per cent drop this year.”

The company buys from southern trappers, mostly those who work in Fiordland, based out of Te Anau.

Fiordland and Wakatipu provide the best skins in the country, Davis believes.

Popular products include bedspreads and maps on possum leather, one of them a Captain Cook chart. A Davis-associated family firm makes the maps in Blenheim.

Hooray for Henry

Henry Geerlings, the Southland farmer who prospects around the Wakatipu in summer, found more nuggets in the past month or two, including one at four grams and another three grams.

He plans to list those he hasn’t already sold on TradeMe, where he got $US10,000 for a larger nugget when gold was about $US450 an ounce. Gold has since doubled in price, and the kiwi dollar has fallen a third. Sold today, he might receive about $NZ40,000 for that nugget. Collectors like nuggets.

Neill Birss will chase up your biz tips: neillb@maxnet.co.nz