Call for fresh blood in deer industry

Velvet on the grow...2-year-old velvet stags enjoy the autumn sunshine on John Somerville and Mel...
Velvet on the grow...2-year-old velvet stags enjoy the autumn sunshine on John Somerville and Mel Frye’s Arawata Deer Farm, near Pine Bush. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
In the chair again...John Somerville, of Pine Bush, has been re-elected chairman of the New...
In the chair again...John Somerville, of Pine Bush, has been re-elected chairman of the New Zealand Deer Farmers Association executive committee. PHOTO: YVONNE O’HARA

New Zealand Deer Farmers Association chairman John Somerville wants to see more young people entering the deer industry.

He also wants to see more deer farmers prepared to lobby councils on regulations that affect their ability to earn a living, and as well as supporting industry-good organisations.

‘‘I want to see more people get involved and who, hopefully, as time goes by, take more responsibility and take on leadership roles in the industry,’’ Mr Somerville said.

He has shown that farming and being a spokesman and industry supporter can be done in tandem.

He was recently re-elected for his second term as chairman of the NZDFA executive committee. He has been involved with the DFA’s Southland branch and sat on the national executive committee for the past eight years.

‘‘As an organisation we have to be relevant to our farmer members to provide that link between farmers and Deer Industry New Zealand , and be visible locally for social events alongside industry lobbying with local and central government.’’

Mr Somerville is a second generation deer farmer on a 170ha property near Pine Bush, in Southland, along with his wife Mel Frye.

His father Walter started the Arawata Deer Farm operation in 1979 and the family now run 800 stags and hinds, as well as 550 commercial sheep.

They breed dual-purpose English/red stags, and produce good growth rates and EBVs as well as top genetics.

They produce 1.7 tonnes of velvet on average annually.

‘‘We are velvet driven but size is important at the end of the day.’’

The NZDFA is an integral part of Deer Industry New Zealand’s (DINZ) next generation programme, which encourages succession and networking.

It is also involved with the advance party programme, which focuses on production and leadership in the industry.

‘‘We also help by taking farmer concerns to board and company levels and ensure farmers have a full understanding of what is going on internationally, nationally and regionally.’’

The association also submits to councils and central government on issues its farmers face, including carbon emissions, environmental regulatory requirements and water issues.

As the Southland DFA often made submissions to councils, he encouraged more farmers to also speak at meetings about what was important to them.

‘‘What works well is when we get farmers to submit.’’

The DFA encourages farmers to talk about how an issue affected them personally, so the council got a ‘‘real perspective’’ of the impact any decision would have on individuals and their operations.

‘‘Our strength is our farmers fighting for farmers. What we do makes a difference. We do get wins and that is important.’’

Young people needed to be involved in governance at branch committee level, he said.

‘‘The branch committees integrate the next generation of farmers so they [the committees] can evolve and change with time.

‘‘I have confidence in the future of the industry as the young ones take over.’’

Mr Somerville was pleased to see the deer industry’s ongoing market diversification and adaptions to the changing needs of its customers.

‘‘There is a diverse range of markets and New Zealand is working with them to ensure our meat is positioned correctly.’’

Velvet prices had been positive during the past few years, with good markets in China and South Korea where it was used to make health supplements.

However, venison was facing its own challenges.

‘‘The food service industry in the States and Europe have been closed down because of Covid-19 and that affected demand. However, as restaurants are starting to open in some places and [the question is]how much will people be prepared to spend? How adaptable is the international food industry going to be under the new economic climate?’’

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