29 Oct 2018

Asian demand for deer velvet boosts production

4:39 pm on 29 October 2018

The deer velvet industry is forecasting slightly higher production levels for the 2018-19 season, which got underway this month.

Stags on a deer velvet farm in North Canterbury

Stags on a deer velvet farm in North Canterbury Photo: RNZ Maja Burry

As well as farming for venison, many of the approximately 1500 deer farms in New Zealand harvest antler velvet and export it to Asian communities, who believe it has healing properties.

Last season, about 700 tonnes of velvet was exported at a value of $64.7 million - compared with $27m in 2014, and $58.7m in 2017.

Deer Industry New Zealand's market manager for Asia, Rhys Griffiths, said the season just started was expected to be reasonably stable, with consumption in Asia increasing in line with production growth in New Zealand.

"We do expect growth to happen... velvet nautrally increases it's weight anyway through genetic gains and what have you... [but] one of the things that has kind of cooled down growth projections I guess the high venison schedule," he said.

The good prices for venison had meant that the stag kill had stayed at similar levels to previous years, Mr Griffiths said.

"So we're not expecting growth to charge ahead, our budget is for 725 tonnes and so we do expect velvet production to increase... sort of three and a half to five percent," he said.

Mr Griffiths said 200 tonnes of the 725-tonne harvest expected this season, would go to health food companies selling high value branded products in South Korea - a market segment that didn't exist 10 years ago.

Branded health foods based on New Zealand velvet had transformed the Korean market and creating a similar product category in China was a priority for the industry, he said.

Griffiths said the deer industry in New Zealand had been working with Chinese regulatory agencies to provide a clear pathway for imports of NZ velvet to manufacturers in China.

"Health food marketers in China are very much aware of the success of velvet-based health foods in Korea. But they want to be sure that the velvet they are buying is legitimate and is available in sufficient quantities at stable prices before they invest the large sums needed to develop and market new products," he said.