Rising deer numbers reflection of increasing farmer confidence

A dramatic increase in hind productivity has been reflected in recent agricultural statistics. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery
A dramatic increase in hind productivity has been reflected in recent agricultural statistics. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery
An increase in farmed deer numbers is a strong indication of growing farmer confidence in the viability of deer in drystock farming operations, Deer Industry New Zealand chief executive Dan Coup says.

Provisional figures released by Statistics New Zealand showed farmed deer numbers, including the number of breeding hinds and fawns, increased in 2018. That followed a small recovery in stag numbers in the 2017 census.

Hind numbers in the year to June 30, 2017 recovered to 413,400 from a low of 392,300 in 2017. That was the first firm indication the long-run decline in deer numbers, that began in the late 1990s, had ended and that a recovery was under way, Mr Coup said in a statement.

What was interesting was the statistics indicated a ''dramatic'' increase in hind productivity.

Farmers reported 84% of hinds weaned a fawn in 2018 compared with fewer than 73% in 2008.

That increase probably reflected the efforts farmers had been putting into improving hind nutrition and management, he said.

Coupled with strong product prices, it meant deer farming was able to compete better with alternative land uses.

That had been a key objective of Passion2Profit, the deer industry's Primary Growth Partnership programme which spanned the venison value-chain, from consumer to farmer, and was about creating more value.

Last year's increase in hind numbers was seen by DINZ as sustainable if it continued in coming years, Mr Coup said.

''If this growth rate continues, it's one that our venison markets should be able to handle. By and large, it is coming from the expansion of herd numbers on existing deer farms and to a lesser extent from newcomers to the industry,'' he said.

He did not expect to see a large influx of new deer farmers.

ANZ's latest Agri-Focus report said deer farmers were benefiting from continual strength in both venison and velvet prices.

Prices reached ''exceptional'' levels in late 2017 and further gains were made in early 2018. Strong marketing initiatives had eased slightly in recent months but were aligned with year-ago levels and remained 33% higher than the five-year average for this time of the season, the report said.

There was some price pressure in European markets as in-market stocks were slightly larger than normal and that was reflected in the schedule prices.

The velvet market was also strong and returns this year were expected to be similar to last year.

Higher returns were now being supported due to a larger proportion of velvet now being processed within New Zealand.

About 25% of velvet was now marketed to food companies for use in high-value products sold primarily to wealthy consumers in South Korea.

China was New Zealand's largest export market for velvet but the majority of velvet imported by China was further processed and sold to South Korea.

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