Sunday, July 3, 2022

Frustrations mount as venison challenges grow

Deer farmers are frustrated as they struggle with low venison prices and their industry, they claim is too slow responding to the post-covid challenges. The low level of venison prices compared to other proteins is a huge concern to all deer farmers, New Zealand Deer Farmers’ Association (NZDFA) chair John Somerville says.

Deer farmers are frustrated as they struggle with low venison prices and their industry, they claim is too slow responding to the post-covid challenges.

The low level of venison prices compared to other proteins is a huge concern to all deer farmers, New Zealand Deer Farmers’ Association (NZDFA) chair John Somerville says.

The NZDFA conveyed this concern to the five main venison marketing companies.

“We want to make sure that everyone involved in the marketing and selling of our products are doing their utmost to position venison in the marketplace for higher prices as fast as is practical,” Somerville said.

In 2018 venison hit a record high at $12/kg, covid hit and it slumped to $5 last year, with current contracts at $7.40.

While acknowledging marketing companies kicked into gear at the onset of covid to clear farms of late season stock, 12 months on farmers are increasingly frustrated that alternative markets have been too slow to develop.

“There is a high level of concern with the current price levels for the upcoming chilled season and beyond that post-chilled crucial market opportunity,” he said.

“We felt it was necessary to reinforce to companies the anxiety felt by venison producers at the lack of recovery in the venison schedule and the impact on future production of further reductions in breeding hind numbers.”

“To be blunt, compared to other meat proteins post covid 2020 and to date in 2021, venison’s market performance and financial return to the producer has been abysmal.”

For the year ending October 2020, 84,000 tonnes of mutton, 297,000t of lamb and 428,000t of beef were exported, compared to 12,000t of venison.

As the export statistics show, venison volumes are a drop in the bucket compared to the rest.

“In a world crying out for good protein, in both retail and restaurants, it is hard to swallow the uncomfortable reality of how low venison values are and how much returns to producers have fallen compared to other red meat sectors,” he said.

There is real concern among the deer farming community that large numbers will start leaving the industry if prices don’t improve considerably over the upcoming season.

“It’s inevitable that this risks a huge impact on industry critical mass with breeding hinds that will be killed in large numbers as pressure builds on breeding farms’ viability,” he said.

Somerville says the entire venison market and its positioning and returns from prime young animals to mixed-age needs to be reappraised.

The stark reality by comparison is the mutton price is currently higher than venison and lamb at a record $9.35 has surged stronger than ever.

“We should be where lamb is, or better, but we are quite a bit on the wrong side of that,” he said.

“There seems to be a viewpoint that the deer farmer will stoically hold on until prices return to viable levels of $9-$10.

“This is an overly optimistic view not based on the on-farm reality.”

The circumstances and future implications for industry confidence and viability needs to be taken seriously.

NZDFA chair John Somerville

NZDFA chair John Somerville says there is real concern that large numbers of farmers will start leaving the industry if prices don’t improve this season.

Farmers were led to believe there was good industry processor cooperation at the strategic level but when covid hit, it wasn’t very apparent with everyone retreating to their own corner to cope with the market crisis.

Raincliff Station deer farmer David Morgan says the venison industry needs transparent cooperation to return, and the fragile nature of many deer farms’ current situation to be fully understood.

He says the covid price slump destroyed a lot of farmer and industry confidence.

“I was bitterly disappointed when the big guns went from $8.50/kg to $5 overnight, there was lots of politics with companies blaming covid,” Morgan said.

“I think it was a time for much more courage and direction rather than a cop-out attitude.”

He says more transparency and honesty and discussion from farmers would have been the way to go.

All five venison companies responded to the NZDFA letter outlining farmers’ concern with some well-considered insights into the current market situation, also sharing their plans for restoring venison pricing.

The venison recovery will be a key topic at the annual NZDFA branch chairs’ meeting in Wellington on October 11-12.

“Our venison marketers will be attending and we will follow up with them to continue the conversation,” Somerville said.

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