The deer industry has had a great year, but it needs to “strive to always do the right thing,” and has more work to do on sustainability and gaining respect, a scorecard revealed at this year’s Deer Industry Conference.
Deer Industry NZ (DINZ) chairman Ian Walker and chief executive Dan Coup’s ‘State of the Nation’ address at the 2019 Deer Industry Conference, held at Te Wharewaka on Poneke on Wellington’s waterfront, included a report card from Coup for the deer sector after a good year.
Describing it as “maybe a little harsh”, his intention was to prompt reflection and discussion on progress to date by the sector and where further improvements can be made, he said. Those reflections would give further direction, he told the good turnout of around 190 deer farmers, venison and velvet processing and exporting people, government officials and others gathered at Te Wharewaka o Poneke on Wellington’s waterfront on 16 and 17 May.
“What I wanted to do was to go through and unpack how much of that is about hard work and the good progress we’ve made towards our objectives and how much of it has been a bit of good fortune from other things going on.”
Coup reminded delegates the industry’s strategy is to produce a confident and growing deer industry through four strands: premium positioning its products; market development and diversification; sustainably growing on-farm value; and a cohesive and respected industry.
Looking at the sector’s positioning of its premium product, high-value chilled venison, he said the amount has gone down by value and volume. “But that’s because the venison marketers held up the schedule for much later than they usually do, because they had found new premium niches for frozen and chilled product at retail, and farmers responded to that,” he said.
Premium petfood was another area of success for the industry over the year and contributed strongly to the schedule too.
“It’s hard to fail when you’ve had the best prices you’ve ever been paid,” he said, adding other work on raising farm assurance standards will position it for the future and giving out a B- grade for progress.
Coup’s presentation showed the deer sector has been doing very well in premium positioning and diversification of velvet (A) and growing on-farm value (A+).
Over the past year, the average carcase weight had been lifted by 1.5 kg per animal, adding nearly $5 million to the farmers’ bottom line, he noted. “Which is pretty spectacular,” he commented, adding that’s on top of a couple of earlier years’ good growth as well. Lifting reproductive efficiency from 77 to 84 percent too over the past couple of years, was “astonishing,” he said.
For venison, market diversification for the meat has been doing well, but not as well as it could, he noted. He pointed to exports to the Eurozone which have actually increased, at the expense of other Europe and contrary to the goal of moving away from traditional markets but it was affected by pound sterling. However, there was growth into China and North America.
On pulling together a more cohesive sector team, Coup gave the sector a B-.
“We’re moving in the right direction,” he said, citing examples of the success of the Passion2Profit Advance Parties programme, including exchanges, and the Deer Farmers Association (NZDFA)’s ‘Next Generation’ over-subscribed programme. The DFA is also working on re-invigoration at local branch level.
Overall, Coup gave the sector a B grade, with some good successes in the past year and deer numbers starting to trend upwards again, showing farmers’ confidence is increasing.
However, the scorecard creates aspirations to work harder in certain areas, Ian Walker commented.
Coup had identified weak ‘C grade passes’ for two areas of need of more attention in the future: sustainability of the industry; and also gaining more respect from its communities – other farmers, customers and New Zealand voters and politicians.
“Sustainability is about doing the right thing for the environment, our animals and our people, said Walker. That also includes economic sustainability.
“From a farming perspective, there’s no embarrassment about making a profit. It’s a business, we’ve got to make sure returns are there for the farmers.”
Work already underway in the area includes DFA activity on succession planning, very high performance to animal welfare standards, the formation of 12 Deer Industry Environment Groups and the fact that 40 percent of deer farmers now have a Farm Environment Plan.
“We also need to ensure we’re investing in the environment and our people,” he said.
He and Coup both commented industry needs to understand that the ‘right thing’ is a moving target. “What acceptable one day is not acceptable the next,” said Walker.
The sector needs to be respected and accepted by its communities and have consumers who want to be associated with it. To find out more about that, the deer industry had tacked a question onto Beef + Lamb NZ’s farmer attitudes survey.
“This revealed the first thing New Zealand consumers say about deer farmers is quite positive,” Coup said, while adding research in the sector’s velvet markets suggest customers there think industry professionalism “needs a bit of work.”
More work is needed, however, for farming in general, including deer farmers, to earn respect from voters and politicians, he said, awarding a C for progress in that area.
“You earn respect, you don’t demand it,” he noted. The days of the deer industry being ahead with its environmental plans are no longer. “Remember, we not ahead of our time anymore,” he said.
The challenge ahead of the deer industry now is to ensure it is sustainable and respected: “To always strive to do the right things – and to understand the ‘right thing’ is a moving target. Also that we are respected and accepted by our communities and have customers who want to be associated with us,” said Coup.