Prices have lifted before they normally go up seasonally, as a result of overseas restaurants reopening and new market growth.
Deer Industry New Zealand (DINZ) chief executive Innes Moffat said market conditions were steadily improving with good growth in sales to North America and China over the past two years.
"Prices are at about $9 a kilogram for venison for an average AP stag," he said. "The $9/kg is the fifth-highest it’s been for this time of the year in the deer industry’s history so it’s well above average. This is the low point of the season, so normally the schedule will be increasing from now until the end of October to be supplying that important German game season."
He said extra North America and China sales would mean farmers were less reliant on the valuable German game season for returns.
"So more venison is being sold 12 months of the year with consumption and we’ve lifted the shoulders of the sale season. Still supplying that chilled season in September and October will be very important ... but a smaller percentage of the total volume will be going into that trade."
Mr Moffat said venison sales were reliant on the restaurant trade, which paid higher prices than supermarkets, and during Covid-19 that market shut down
"But the restaurants have been reopening in the USA and Europe and also in China so the restaurant trade has really bounced back after Covid-19 and also the companies have put in a big effort in diversifying their markets into more retail and home delivery."
Some companies have started up their own online sales channels and others have developed retail-friendly products sold into more supermarkets in the US and China.
They were looking to get the best value from parts of the carcass, with retail items including new ways of cutting and packaging venison.
This appeals to Chinese diners for hotpots and and barbecues and thinly sliced cuts for shabu shabu dishes. Cubes of venison from the forequarter were going into slow-cooked dishes.
Velvet was in strong demand during Covid-19 as Korean buyers use it to boost their immune system.
The sales season was, however, initially slow in September and October as a build-up of stocks by importers from shutdowns in China’s main port had to be absorbed.
"As China came out of its lockdown they rapidly moved through some of those stocks ... and we had a strong finish to the season. The last shipments left New Zealand for the season over the last month or so, with the main sales season finishing in February and March."
As a result, farm venison prices are back on the previous season at $105-$110 a kilogram, compared with $120-$125/kg.
Mr Moffat said the lower prices were from interruptions to the supply channel rather than a drop-off in consumer demand.
This supported the strategy of export companies diversifying geographic markets and sales channels. The traditional Chinese preventive medicine market remained important, but they were also looking to increase sales by working alongside pharmaceutical and nutritional supplement companies, he said.
Good sales were coming through for tonics to boost teenagers for studying hard, with the main Korean buyers of velvet and velvet products being women and mothers aged 25-45.
Higher farm inflation for fertiliser, fuel and farm machinery and being asked to invest more in environmental management was on the minds of deer farmers, Mr Moffat said.
The threat of a tax on greenhouse gas emissions was causing anxiety at a time of squeezed profit margins, he said.
He went through changes in DINZ’s new strategy introduced last year to 180 deer farmers and industry people attending the organisation’s industry conference in Ashburton.
The focus was on providing core services for deer farmers and making sure resources were being concentrated to support marketing companies, animal welfare systems, efficient research, the health food sector and diversification into new markets.
The conference was booked out, with a highlight being Animation Research founder Sir Ian Taylor’s speech about the company mindset of seeking opportunities in changing circumstances.