Venison price rise likely as markets lift

News that processors are likely to be paying more for deer this spring was welcomed by deer farmers at their annual conference in Methven a fortnight ago.

Silver Fern Farms, one of the two biggest venison exporters, announced its spring chilled contract prices on the third day of the conference.

National deer manager Malcolm Gourlie said farmers who entered a contract this spring would be able to lock in a minimum price similar to last year's fixed contract prices.

However, this season there was the potential to earn up to 50 cents a kilogram above this, if market conditions and the exchange rate allowed.

Firstlight Foods, a smaller exporter that operates in new markets, also confirmed that its 2014 base price for year-round supply was more than 50c a kilo higher than for 2013.

Deer Farmers Association chairman Kris Orange said this was news that many farmers wanted to hear.

''These are benchmarks around which other exporters are likely to cluster.''

He said the consensus of farmers at the conference was that the farm gate venison price needed to be $2 a kg more than lamb, to make venison farming competitive.

At present, the margin in favour of venison is only a matter of cents per kilo - the lowest it has been in many years.

''While the contract prices on offer don't promise what we want, they are a step in the right direction and a signal of market confidence that farmers have been looking for,'' Mr Orange said.

Deer Industry New Zealand (DINZ) chief executive Dan Coup told farmers there was a pretty consistent view among marketers that traditional European markets were improving and farmers had probably seen the bottom of the price curve.

The supply pipeline was now empty and no stocks were overhanging the market.

Mr Coup said the deer industry had been trying for many years to break free from its reliance on the traditional game-meat commodity trade in Europe.

The future lay in creating a brand for the New Zealand product that would attract a premium price and year-round demand.

''It will also require farmers to commit their animals to that branded marketing programme, regardless of what happens in the commodity trade.''

Already some exporters are making good progress in niche markets. Conference goers heard that Mountain River Venison had created a premium brand in Sweden.

In the Netherlands, Firstlight Foods and Silver Fern Farms are working with a major food service company to build year-round demand for chilled product branded as New Zealand farm-raised venison rather than game.

But the big hope lies in the proposed launch of the premium Cervena brand in Europe and potentially China, driven by the five largest venison exporters.