Alligator farming is a $60 million business in Louisiana. Vermilion Parish is one of the biggest players in the worldwide alligator market.
Vermilion Gator Farms Inc., located south of Abbeville, is one of the largest alligator farms in America. The farm has not sold an alligator skin in a year and probably will not be able to sell a skin for another year.
Vermilion Gator Farm normally sells 75,000 hides a year which equals big bucks for the parish.
Wayne Sagrera and his four sons own and operate Vermilion Gator Farm. After 25 years of being in the business, Wayne said this is the worst he has seen the alligator industry.
“The luxury market has crashed,” Wayne said. “The market is non-existent and there are no sales. Everyone has inventory on-hand because there are no sales.”
The Sagreras harvest eggs from the wild and then raise the alligators until they reach a certain foot length of about 4 to 5 feet long. When the gators get that long, they are killed, skinned, salted down and the hides are sold to a tanner in Singapore.
Over the summer the Sagreras will begin killing and skinning the 75,000 alligators but as of today, they have no buyer for them. Wayne said the longer they wait to kill the gators, the larger the gators will grow and the skins will not be as soft as a 4- to 5-foot gator. Plus, it costs a lot more to feed 75,000 gators each day they are alive.
Today there are 840,000 tanned hides in the U.S. market waiting to be sold to tanners who are not buying. On average, 275,000 hides are sold nationally. This summer, because of the glut, Wayne predicts the market will be able to handle only about 140,000 hides.
Already the Sagrera farm and other Louisiana alligator farmers have made a decision not to harvest any eggs from the wild for next season. Eggs are harvested in June and July.
He predicts there will be a wild alligator season in September but the price-per-foot for wild alligators will probably be about half of what it was a year ago.
There is not a big market for wild alligators worldwide. The one country that did buy a lot of wild alligator skins is Russia, whose economy is also in trouble.
“The market will be very cheap,” said Wayne.
Being in the market in 25 years, Wayne has seen the price go up and down. In 1992, the price crashed because of the excess of alligators on the market.
The difference between 1992 and 2009 is, “you are not even selling,” Wayne said. “I would say this is the worst that I have ever seen. There has never been a big inventory like this before.”