Getting more out of deerskins – currently averaging about $20 each on the schedule – is back on the scope, with some new research due to start in July.
New Zealand seems to have bucked a significant global hides and skins trend over the past year to the end of February 2019. The internationally-respected Sauer global price index saw world prices for beef and sheep hides and skins plummet by 34 and 33 percent, respectively, to reach their lowest points since the Global Financial Crisis in 2008.
However, the value of total New Zealand hides and skins exports fell only by around six percent to about $340 million over roughly the same period. The value of New Zealand deerskin exports, on the other hand, only fell by around one percent to $5.9 million in the year ending 2018.
“This reflects the premium nature of the product,” notes DINZ science and policy manager Catharine Sayers, adding that even though New Zealand may have been shielded from the worst of global conditions, processors are always looking for ways to improve quality and so returns.
Around forty percent of deerskins produced by the New Zealand deer industry slot into the top quality grade and DINZ is seeking ways to get more of the lower quality into the top band.
“The price differential is quite significant,” she says. “I’m told the top grade gets 40 percent uplift on the next grade down.”
The DEEResearch board recently decided to invest around $100,000 of uncommitted expenditure in its 2019-2020 year, which starts on 1 July, into three learning-phase projects. One of those is a desk-study for optimising the value of deerskins.
“This will inform us of the impacts of working in new areas and to scope out precise areas where specific research could add value,” explains Sayer, adding the other two pieces of work are likely to relate to breath or saliva-based on-farm diagnostic tests for lungworm and DNA-based venison traceability.
Skin quality data will be analysed from at least one of the venison companies, Venison Packers Feilding, which also processes wild/feral deer that have strayed onto and been killed on-farm, she says.
“We will get back skin quality reports from the ‘farm ferals’ and compare them with data from the farmed deer. This gives us an opportunity to compare and assess the extent to which the end-of-life processes for the farmed deer may be responsible for any defects,” she explains.
The scoping work will also look into what has been done on deerskins in the past, by AgResearch, Leather and Shoe Research Association (LASRA) and other providers. Sayer says DINZ would like to build on that knowledge.
“We, and DEEResearch, are happy to know there’s a research community out there already whose expertise we can leverage off. We really respect the skills at LASRA, for example, and wouldn’t want to grow leather and skin processing research capability when it is already in existence.
“What DEEResearch can offer is excellent access to AgResearch capability in understanding the influence of deer farming and transport practices and identifying potential improvements,” she says.
“This study will re-examine existing knowledge and identify whether new avenues of investigation could be fruitful. Any further significant work the industry is tempted to invest in will be informed by this learning phase, which will attempt to quantify the value of going into something boots and all.”
LASRA working on sustainability and collagen
Sayer is also keeping an eye on work already underway at LASRA into ways to add value to hides and skins, making their processing more sustainable and finding uses for one of their main components, the protein collagen.
Research scientists Dr Sujay Prabakar and Dr Rafea Naffa spoke in March at a Meat Industry Association research and development workshop in Hamilton.
Their work has been prompted, partly, by the global collapse in world prices for sheep and beef skins and hides, says Prabakar.
“It’s unusual for hides to see that kind of drop and difficult to put a finger on a single reason for the drop,” he says, “Globally, there’s been a drop in prices and demand and tighter environmental regulation of the tannery industry in China has had a lot to do with that.”
Other reasons include a rise in global beef production, meaning there are more hides on the market overall and increased interest in synthetic leathers, which has affected the shoe leather market, again especially in China.
This has prompted LASRA to explore ways in which the processing of natural hides can be made more sustainable and biodegradeable, especially in landfill.
“In particular, we’re looking at how to minimise the use of chrome in the processing – currently a finished hide contains more than eight percent of it – while preserving the natural elements and increasing biodegradability, “ he explained.
Naffa’s work has focused on the extraction of the protein collagen, a major constituent of the hide comprising around 10 percent. In 2018, the collagen market accounted for nearly US$3.5 billion and is projected to reach nearly US$4.6 billion by 2023.
“Demand is high,” he noted, explaining that collagen has superior characteristics such as gelling, emulsification and binding of food products. “So it is used in many applications, such as food and dietary supplements, medical devices such as drug delivery and wound healing and cosmetic formulations, such as anti-ageing and skin-rejuvenating ingredients.”
LASRA is working on extracting high quality native collagen, collagen peptides and gelatine from the hides for use in food and dietary supplements. Encouraging results have also been reported from an Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment-funded trial testing a new drug delivery device incorporating collagen on animals following a surgical procedure.
While much of the work to date has been done on bovine hides, religious restrictions for those products in some parts of the world mean there is also opportunity for sheep (ovine), says Prabakar. New Zealand is one of only a few countries working on collagen extraction from sheepskins and there is also potential for deerskins.
“We haven’t really looked at collagen as yet from deerskins, but it’s something our chemists will definitely be interested in,” he says.
Working with research partners Massey University, the University of Auckland, COMSATS and AgResearch, one of the areas of LASRA core-funding is genetics and seasonal effects on skin and hide quality. They are also working on the circular economy, multispectral analysis for identifying quality and traceability in hides and skins, market compliance and high value co-products from new generation beef.
Global exports of New Zealand deer leather
Since 2014, the volume of New Zealand deer leather exports has declined 43 percent to reach 83,275 square metres in the 2018 year, while the value fell nearly 40 percent over the same period to $5.9 million, Statistics NZ figures show. A large part of that is due to deer herd numbers declining, but other market factors are also in play.
In 2014, Italy was the largest market for New Zealand deer leather accounting for 39 percent of exports, but by 2018 this had fallen to 22 percent, partly due to the general downturn in luxury goods which has been underway since the GFC in 2008.
Another key market, China takes the top quality leather and also some of the lower grade products for gloves. In 2018, it took 29,000 m2 , worth $2 million, compared to Italy’s 19,000 m2 worth $1.7 million.
Over the same period, however, Germany increased in significance as an importer of New Zealand deer leather, possibly for luxury car manufacturing, rising 88 percent in value from $71,000 to $611,000.
This article appeared in the latest edition of Deer Industry News magazine (June/July 2019) and is reproduced here with permission. Check out the magazine (right) for more in-depth deer industry specific news, including news from the Deer Industry Conference, environmental activities, on-farm fieldays, trials and more.