Deer farmers look at boosting returns

TIM CRONSHAW
Last updated 05:00 18/05/2014
Deer
Fairfax NZ

TOP SHELF: Deer farmers are leaving no stone unturned to raise venison returns.

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Deer farmers are looking for higher venison prices from better breeding and by channelling branded cuts into traditional and developing markets.

The deer industry is working on a business case with five major venison exporters to jointly brand venison to top-shelf customers.

Deer Industry New Zealand (DINZ) chairman Andy Macfarlane said the business case was being reviewed by exporters for a chilled brand most likely to be Cervena and marketed to traditional and new markets.

Cervena chilled venison was mostly bound for the United States and the plan was to grow the US market and differentiate New Zealand chilled venison for "white cloth" restaurant and hotel trade, he said.

"The gap between lamb and venison has narrowed as lamb prices have done quite well and because we have become too dependent on our game market and New Zealand-farmed venison is not differentiated from European game-shot venison. It's highly differentiated by chefs, but it's not by consumers."

Macfarlane said the premium brand would support important trading during the European hunting season, but diversify into other European markets and China.

Europe accounts for about 80 per cent of New Zealand's venison trading with Germany taking 30 per cent of that and Belgium, the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries other large buyers. About 7 per cent goes to the United States under the Cervena brand, owned by the deer industry. Most of the European sales are made in a three-month window known as the game season.

Building brands was an expensive business and the plan was for the cost to be shared by the main venison processors of Silver Fern Farms, Alliance Group, Duncan & Co, Mountain River Venison and First Light Foods.

Macfarlane said deer grown for the chilled venison market had to be larger animals than velvet or trophy deer and the industry had invested in breeding techniques to add more growth.

They were making "huge headway" lately with liveweight gains of one to 1.5 kilograms over a year for an extra $6 to $7 a year for each animal, he said.

As part of a Passion 2 Profit strategy DINZ is working to tie in food quality and environmental agreements between exporters by the end of next year with breeding gains and research and market development.

Increasing deer profitability, food trends and innovation will be among the main topics at the Deer Industry Conference at Methven from May 20 to 22.

Venison prices are picked to improve after a carry-over of frozen stock last year was a dampener and Europeans turned to menu alternatives or sought cheaper venison from producers such as Spain. A 60kg stag is at a seasonal price of about $6.50/kg with the market rising as the chilled season approaches and farmers hoped the "tide was coming up".

Macfarlane said the silver lining of this was that farmers had realised they needed to differentiate their chilled venison from competitors.

He said farmers wanted prices low enough for consumers to want to buy venison and high enough for producers to make a profitable living, but at the moment they were too low.

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"We are looking for a sustainable price rise and we know the market doesn't have the stocks in the supply chain. In- market stocks are the lowest they have been for some time."

Macfarlane said venison needed to find more homes outside Europe's main three-month hunting season.

Expanding the window would allow more venison to be chilled rather than frozen. Better genetics, feeding and animal health would make more premium venison available during the chilled window and increase chilled sales to other markets, he said.

He said China bought virtually no venison, but was seen as a niche market for white cloth restaurants and top hotels as well as a market for diced products suiting its cuisine. Only one meat processing company had venison access to China and DINZ was trying to negotiate more processing.

China and Korea were major buyers of velvet and high- returning deer co-products for oriental medicine. A deer tail with its value gland was worth $30 and sinews, bones and pizzles were valued in Asia, while deer leather was made into high-fashion products.

Velvet returns had been stable the past five years and rising.

- The Press

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