Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Venison industry getting back on its feet

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New chair of industry body and good demand for the product point towards recovery.
The first woman to chair DINZ, Mandy Bell, says large untapped potential for profitable venison production exists on drystock farms.
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With a new chair at the helm – the first woman to hold the office at Deer Industry New Zealand (DINZ) – and good demand feeding into the price, venison recovery is on the move. 

Shipping, however, continues to be a real problem.

Venison companies have been sharing their spring season expectations with their suppliers, delivering the message these are well up on last year, but that sea freight risks shortening the export window.

Published schedules for venison  in August lifted to between $8.25-$8.45/kg, 48%-51% above the national average for July 2021, and were tracking just under 2%-4% ahead of the five-year average for the month.

Silver Fern Farms (SFF) general manager sales Peter Robinson said chilled sales are well advanced for the period, and New Zealand can take advantage of the premiums available for chilled supply.

“Prices are up on last year, which is a good start. This is the rebuild of venison demand,” Robinson said.

“We want to reduce our reliance on the European commodity trade, and new markets are going well, but it means investing in new markets for the long term, so we don’t go back to boom or bust. 

“We are confident this is the right strategy to rebuild venison returns. This is how we best position ourselves to capture greater value as the market overcomes its current supply chain and inflationary pressures.”

Duncan NZ general manager marketing and operations Rob Kidd said European Union chilled demand has been firm.

“We had hoped prices would have recovered more over the past 12 months, however, the sentiment in Europe is one of caution as they face tougher times,” Kidd said.

For the coming season, SFF and its in-market partners have identified shipping routes and specific shipping companies that are delivering to schedule at an acceptable level, though exporters acknowledge risk does still exist.

Kidd said airfreight to specific markets will always be an option for Duncan NZ, but it will remain on a case-by-case basis.

The continuing exorbitant airfreight prices are testing the viability of that alternative for SFF, however. 

Any volumes sent by air will probably not be at a premium over chilled as both the exporter and importer will need to absorb the cost to make the product affordable for the consumer, Robinson said.

Meanwhile DINZ is committed to accelerating the industry’s recovery from covid under the new leadership of Central Otago deer farmer and veterinarian Mandy Bell, who was elected to the chair’s seat in July. 

First Light Foods group managing director Gerard Hickey was elected deputy chair with two new producer appointees, Hamish Fraser, South Canterbury, and Dr Jacqueline Rowarth, Waikato, joining the board.  They replace Mark Harris and former chair Ian Walker, who have retired.

Bell said both she and Hickey will be active in the governance of the board, which has committed itself to accelerating the recovery of the industry from covid.

“We believe there is a large untapped potential for profitable venison production on drystock farms,” Bell said. 

“The industry’s response to the covid pandemic has been focused on building market opportunities and we now have a much greater spread of markets and market segments than ever before and with those, we can offer much greater income security to venison producers.” 

Bell said the board also recognises the value that velvet adds to the industry.

“This is true, even on venison operations, where velvet from spikers and sire stags adds significantly to the economics of farming deer.”

She said DINZ will continue to support producers with policy advocacy where needed, with plans to use the industry’s environmental leadership to build sales of venison and velvet to affluent customers who are seeking healthy foods that are produced to the highest environmental and animal welfare standards.

Bell and her husband Jerry, a former DINZ board member, farm 6,000 deer on Criffel Station near Wanaka. She has commercial interests in animal health product importing and trading companies and the couple’s other business interests include tourism and property development.

Bell has a lifelong interest in deer, after attending NZ’s first live deer auction as a child and working with fallow deer as a vet student. 

She has also been involved in the development of several major deer industry initiatives. 

These include the Passion2Profit programme that was instrumental in the development of new venison markets; the deer progeny test that strengthened Deer Select, the industry’s genetic database; and DeerPRO, which monitors and manages Johne’s disease in deer.

Bell is a passionate believer in the potential of sustainable land management systems to deliver better environmental performance and economic outcomes for farmers. In this field she was a member of the Freshwater Leaders Group and is chair and programme director of WAI Wanaka, a collaborative approach to improving environmental outcomes in Lake Wanaka and the Upper Clutha.

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