The New Zealand Deer Industry says a downturn in venison prices is being countered by strong growth in the use of deer velvet in health food products in Asia.
Deer Industry New Zealand is celebrating its 40th year in business at its annual conference in Napier; industry leaders said deer farming in New Zealand had come a long way in that time.
The deer industry in New Zealand is relatively young, with the first licence to farm deer issued in 1970. Since then, the industry has grown to be the number one source for farm-raised venison world-wide, with over 2800 farmers farming over one million deer, earning about $230 million last year.
Deer Industry New Zealand CEO Dan Coup said the biggest challenge facing the industry was subdued venison prices, and maintaining farmer confidence.
"We're confident we're about to just turn a corner on that. We are seeing prices and profitability improving, and we hope confidence will follow pretty quickly behind that," he said.
Mr Coup said increasing prices for deer velvet was one of the factors driving increased confidence in the industry, as it was sold as a product which can boost your immune system.
Deer Industry New Zealand Velvet marketing manager Rhys Griffiths said the industry had been working with large companies overseas such as Korean Ginseng Corp (KGC) to develop velvet for the health foods market.
Mr Griffiths said Korea was following the United States in developing a large ready-to-consume health market for products such as cold and flu remedies.
"We're now finding that products that are able to be grabbed off the shelf on the go makes it much more accessible. So that market - the general healthy food market - is growing very, very fast, just because of that on-the-go easy to consume nature about it," he said.
A senior scientist at Agresearch, Stephen Haines, said a key factor in being able to sell products into Korea and China was being able to prove the product does what the company said it did.
Dr Haines is working with Korean Ginseng Corp to identity the components in deer velvet which boost immune systems.
"That would then open the way for registration of a product as a healthy functional food say in Korea and that would open a tremendous opportunity for expanding the marketing of New Zealand deer velvet products," he said.
Velvet supply company Provelco supplies velvet to Korean Ginseng Corp. Its director, John Spiers, said, until recently, deer velvet was shipped overseas in a frozen raw form.
Mr Spiers said the relationship with Korean Ginseng Corp had enabled value-added processing which is boosting returns to farmers.
Deer Industry New Zealand and the Ministry for Primary Industries have also just announced a partnership to boost venison prices, by marketing New Zealand venison as a luxury red meat sold year-round in new markets.