Comment: Deer industry proud, busy and collaborative

The deer industry was out in force in Dunedin last week at its annual two-day Deer Industry Conference, this year focusing on the theme ‘Proud Partnerships’.

As Deer Industry NZ (DINZ) chairman Andy Macfarlane and chief executive Dan Coup noted in their opening addresses, at the event organised jointly by DINZ and the New Zealand Deer Farmers Association (NZDFA), partnerships are critical to the execution of the deer industry plan. These are evident in the velvet value chain, with existing market partners, in Cervena market development, the Advance Party initiative and through the DEEResearch partnership.

Stabilising the size of the deer herd is the number one challenge for the industry. “It’s not because we want to be huge and take over the world. The issue is that shrinking the industry means we are constantly losing economies of scale,” they said. “We don’t need to be huge, but we do need to stop shrinking.”

The industry’s long-term vision is for a confident and growing industry, the top duo noted. This is to be achieved through a stated strategy of premium positioning for New Zealand deer products, market development and diversification – such as the pilot collaborative Passion2Profit (P2P) project in the Netherlands positioning New Zealand venison as an option for summer menus – sustainable on-farm creation and a cohesive and respected industry. In effect, setting the scene for when supplies start to come back on stream next year and the herd starts to rebuild.

Delegates were also updated with the latest information from the industry’s P2P Primary Growth Partnership programme, along with other market development initiatives, research projects and other matters. To fund activities, an increase in the venison levy has been proposed, plus use of DINZ reserves.

Two keynote sessions focused on the major marketing activity taking place in the US and Europe, featuring exporters, importers and distributors talking about the challenges and opportunities New Zealand faces in each market.

New Zealand’s special agricultural trade envoy, Mike Petersen, spoke eloquently on the opportunities presented by the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other free trade agreements (FTAs), like those with China and the Republic of Korea. These are so essential, in his estimation, for a small nation like New Zealand which contributes just three percent of world production. He noted New Zealand’s population of 4.6 million  – the same size as Sydney, but producing food for 40 million people.

“We have to work really, really hard to influence people offshore,” he said, adding that FTAs are a ‘door-opener’ for companies to go and do business. Now they are in place with many of New Zealand’s major markets and tariff barriers have come down, the focus for trade negotiators has turned to tackling the non-tariff trade barriers, such as plant certification, unnecessary sanitary and phyto-sanitary requirements and labelling, he explained.

Other trade priorities, according to Petersen, are the EU-NZ FTA, which he predicts will be a really tough negotiation – in spite of New Zealand’s long history – with pressures in-market such as immigration, internal politics and the possible Brexit all creating uncertainty. Others are India and China – “124 countries call China their number one market,” he noted.

Other conference sessions covered women in agriculture, Advance Parties, farm strategies for profitability, managing succession, and the basics of success, plus a boning demonstration at Silver Fern Farms, finishing with a gala dinner at the Dunedin Town Hall on the final night.

On the day after conference, the hosts – the Otago Branch of the NZDFA – held a field day involving science sessions with AgResearch deer scientists, a tour of Duncan South Ltd’s venison processing facility and an Invermay farm visit showing good hill country environmental management in action.

Deer farmers seem to be responding to the messages. In fact, recent figures show a big drop in the kill – around 20 percent+ – as farmers retain stock for breeding, which has taken processors by surprise, several admitted. However, while this will mean less New Zealand venison available in the short-term, it bodes well for the long-term, they said. In the meantime, the important thing will be for processors to keep regular customers happy and consumers eating.

The sheepmeat industry could learn a lot from the collaboration evident on the platform from the five venison exporters – Silver Fern Farms, Alliance, Duncan NZ, Firstlight Venison and Mountain River Venison – talking openly and sharing information with each other and their venison suppliers.

Yes, the venison industry is small, but it is certainly showing a way of moving forward, proudly.

Archived video footage of the live-streamed presentations will be available at www.ruraltv.co.nz in due course and copies of presentations will be available at www.deernz.org.

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