Tuesday, 27 September 2022 10:55

Deer industry celebrates successful end to partnership project

Written by  Peter Burke
Deer Industry NZ chair Mandy Bell. Deer Industry NZ chair Mandy Bell.

New chair of Deer Industry NZ Mandy Bell wants the deer industry to be recognised as a sector that produces really healthy protein and is farmed by people who are passionate about the environment.

She says venison is a naturally farmed, healthy, tasty, lean meat high in iron and well suited to consumers who want healthy food.

Her comments came at a recent function at Parliament to celebrate the end of a seven year $14 million partnership programme between the deer industry and MPI known as P2P or Passion2Profit. Its aim has been to improve the profitability of the sector and develop new markets for venison.

The function was hosted by the Minister of Agriculture Damien O'Connor and included the retiring chair of DINZ, Bruce Wills, who was one of the drivers of the project. He says while the project did not achieve all the aspirational goals set out seven years ago, no one could have foreseen the global shut down of the food service sector due to Covid.

"But venison marketers have done a fabulous job pivoting to retail with prices now well on the way to recovery from the Covid induced slump."

O'Connor says, from his travels around the country, he sees too many deer fences with no deer behind them. He says there is potential for the industry to grow without necessarily creating any more infrastructure. O'Connor adds that what started off as fledgling industry has grown, but he would like to see venison exports grow more than the current $150 million.

"I believe the long term target for the industry should be $1 billion."

For her part, Bell - who farms deer on Criffel Station, near Wanaka - says the completion of the P2P programme should not be sen as the end but rather the beginning of the next phase in the development of a vibrant deer industry in NZ.

"We have come out of P2P motivated and engaged. We're small, we're agile and we are integrated," she told Rural News. "We have the venison and velvet companies as well as the Deer Farmers Association sitting at the same table.

"We were the first farming industry to develop environmental awards and an environmental code of practice. Our farmers are passionate about their animals and taking the industry forward and they are eager to be the country's most respected agri-food industry."

Improving Deer Productivity and Finding New Markets

The Passion2Profit was part of a primary growth partnership project aimed at improving deer productivity on the farm - as well as developing new markets for venison.

DINZ chief executive Innes Moffatt says while there was a lot of good research on the subject of deer reproduction, it wasn’t necessarily being applied universally on farms. He says the project was aimed at the importance of farmers feeding their animals better so deer could express their genetic potential and also to make sure farmers were using those genetics really well.

“For the farmers who have been really engaged in the programme, they have seen some improvement in the productivity of their animals and across the whole herd and we have seen a lift in the reproduction rate of deer,” Moffat explains.

“So, more fawns born and we have seen an increase in the national carcass weight, but we also acknowledge that there is lot more that we can be doing.”

He says the industry’s genetic programme is going ahead in “leaps and bounds”, but the sector is not necessarily seeing the full exploitation of that genetic potential.

Innes Moffatt Damien OConnor and Mandy Bell FBTW

DINZ chief executive Innes Moffat, Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor and DINZ chair Mandy Bell celebrate the end of the P2P project at a recent function at Parliament.

Moffat says one of the aims for the industry is to ensure venison was available 52 weeks of the year so that it could be supplying more markets around the world – not just the seasonal and traditional European game market, which has a defined window in the months before Christmas. He says the sector has been expanding its markets in North America and China and part of the P2P programme was to give farmers some of the tools to meet these opportunities.

“We had some very excited and engaged customers in 2019 and things were growing. But when Covid struck in 2020 and 2021 basically the restaurant sector in key markets shut down and our markets disappeared,” he told Rural News.

However, Moffat believes they are now seeing a strong rebound in the food services sector and customers are returning. He says there is still some hesitancy due to the recession in Europe and, with inflation, dining out is seen as discretionary.

Meanwhile, Moffat says there have been some spill-over benefits from the P2P project – including the fact that farmers involved in the project have developed their own networks. He says they are now using these to help each other with such things as farm environment plans and how to deal with the new regulations.

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