Johnson Fur remains in hunt for deer hides
WILLMAR -- Johnson Fur Company will be collecting deer hides this season, just as it has for more than half a century. That's despite the turmoil over tariffs and trade with China, which buys nearly all of the hides. "It's not an easy situation,'...
WILLMAR - Johnson Fur Company will be collecting deer hides this season, just as it has for more than half a century.
That's despite the turmoil over tariffs and trade with China, which buys nearly all of the hides. "It's not an easy situation,'' said Scott Johnson, owner and founder of Johnson Fur Company located along U.S. Highway 71 south of Willmar.
He said China always attached a small charge on hides from the U.S., but has now imposed an additional 10 percent tariff.
The Minnesota Deer Hunters Association had announced last week that it was going to suspend its popular Hides for Habitat program due to those same issues. That program sells hides that are donated by hunters and uses the proceeds on habitat projects in the state. On Monday, the association announced an 11th-hour agreement with fur buyers that will make it possible to continue the Hides for Habitat program.
Johnson said he and others in the fur-buying business are caught up in similar trade issues as are soybean farmers.
Nonetheless, he said the company decided to take the long view and continue to collect furs this season like every other. It will continue to offer a free pair of deer hide gloves in exchange for each deer hide.
The company collects hides from about 150 stations throughout Minnesota and parts of Iowa, Wisconsin, North and South Dakota.
The company collected 75,000 hides last year, down from as many as 140,000 hides collected in years when the Minnesota deer harvest was much higher. Johnson said they are shooting for 75,000 hides this year as well.
The company employs up to 20 people during the start of the season, when hides are collected, salted and cured for shipment. Johnson said the hides can be stored for a period of time in hopes that the trade situation with China improves, but there is a limit. By June, those hides either need to be placed in cold storage or tanned.
Johnson said he and others in the industry are hoping that negotiators for the two countries will come to the table and that something will change mid-season.
Adding to the trade problems, Johnson said fur processors in China are facing opposition from their government over pollution. Tanneries in China have operated with very few environmental regulations, he said.
It means demand for U.S. furs is down, as are prices, according to Johnson.
And, there is that tariff.
"They aren't going to pay the tariff. We are going to pay it,'' he said.
In the meantime, he said: "We're going to proceed like we always had and go forward.''