DINZ strategy: deer farmers keen “to get it right”

Feb 17, 2023

Deer farmers are keen for DINZ to “get it right” and are urged to have their say on the new strategy by deer farming leader Justin Stevens.

Justin Stevens: ”We have got to get it right.”

Since meeting with DINZ chair Mandy Bell, CEO Innes Moffat and the DFA National Executive in December, DFA chair and Marlborough deer farmer Justin Stevens has met individually with around 20 farmers and canvassed opinion around DFA branch chairs too. He has asked them to come back with the thoughts and feedback about the strategy from their branches.

The biggest issue for deer farmers is simply whether the dollars they will be putting into the new strategy will return money to them, he is hearing. There is “plenty of passion,” for deer farming, but there is also frustration, “disappointment and disillusionment too” about what has happened in the past.

Stevens notes there is also support from government for some of the changes industry faces and that farmers should provide feedback to DINZ on what they feel is important for the industry. It is still early days, he says.

“I want to see things improve and that’s what the strategy’s about. Now is the time for deer farmers to have their say.

“We have got to get it right.”

While the strategy “looks great on paper,” notes DFA National Executive member Karen Middelberg. “there’s not a lot of detail yet on how the industry can achieve what we know needs to be done” to achieve a thriving future.

Evan Potter: “The devil’s in the detail.” Deer farmers are going to need at least $10/kg to stay in business, he says.

Hawke’s Bay DFA branch chair, Evan Potter, agrees. The strategy “touches on most areas that we need to look at, but the devil’s in the detail.”

In general, he says, there has been a lot of improvement, especially with efforts to engage with the regions, “it’s heading in the right direction.”

The summary was “a bit light on guts”, he thought, and he requested more detail. He’s supportive of the move for venison away from the EU to the US and the emerging market of China, as long as a balanced basket of markets is maintained, but he stresses that farmers need to be assured of returns.

“While the strategy talks about lifting the venison schedule, in reality it’s where it’s going to hit,” he says. “Venison’s made gains and is getting back to an acceptable level, but with compliance and bureaucracy, you need that $10/kg or more. Farmers want to know if, and when, they’ll be getting the $10/kg they need to stay in business.”

Continued investment in R&D is also critical, but needs to be targeted, as the strategy indicates, and good communication is vital.

Covid-19 forced more rapid change to marketing, product dispersal and product innovation, than would have happened otherwise, which was positive, but the momentum needs to be maintained, he believes.

“That’s only good for us in the long-term, including more venison available on the domestic market,“ he says. However, he says, “There’s still more change to come and farmers have a lot of other choices.”

Processors still need to come up with good outlets for venison, while industry needs to continue to invest in research around velvet harvest.

He would like to see a three-year implementation plan, “with a clear review period to see that we’re on track, benchmarking certain points in the timeframe, coupled with how the dollars that are being spent in each of the areas are actually delivering value for money.

Many of the issues that are frustrating farmers are outside the influence of DINZ as an industry board, Potter acknowledges.

“Its role is more about using industry funding to future-proof the industry, to facilitate change, influence direction, to share information and learning opportunities for all aspects of the industry, to lobby government for sensible outcomes within policy changes, and invest in research and development for now and the future while trying to please all levy payers.”

The proposed plan ticks all of these boxes, “the challenge will be to deliver on expectations,” he thinks.

“We’ve got a fantastic product in a great environment, with world-leading practices for farming,  welfare and environmental management. It’s one hell of a story.”

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