DINZ news in brief | Issue 98

May 19, 2023

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In Brief

2023 Deer Industry Conference a success

The deer industry rolled out in force this year to update themselves and discuss industry issues at a critical time for the sector. Around 180, mainly deer farmers, marketers and allied interests, were listening in a packed-out conference room at Hotel Ashburton. 

MC Sarah Perriam had her work cut out for her keeping everyone on time during a busy day off-farm and plant.

Conference-goers were given plenty of ‘Food for Thought’ in the punchy one-day Deer Industry Conference programme, deftly MC’d by Sarah Perriam-Lampp. 

The NZ Deer Farmers’ Association’s Canterbury/West Coast branch had taken over the hosting of the event at short notice.

It was an “enormous honour” to see so many there, said  branch chair Lorna Humm, who had been involved with its organisation. She acknowledged the hard work the Hawke’s Bay NZDFA team had put into pre-conference preparation before the “catastrophic Cyclone Gabrielle.”

The revised conference format, which was well received, featured 14 speakers, saw presentations from DINZ on velvet and venison marketers on activities in the US and China, plus quizzing of the DINZ board. Delegates split into three groups in the afternoon for workshop sessions focused on – handling stress (Craig Wiggins, ‘Lean on a Gate: Talk to a Mate), community engagement (Megan McCall, Abacus Bio) and Science Success in the deer industry.

At the end of the day, guest speaker Mark Adams, chair of the South Canterbury Rural Trust, talked about the importance of rural leadership and supporting those elected leaders.

Keynote speaker, was the inspirational Sir Ian Taylor founder of Animation Research Ltd. His company’s vision – “Bugger the boxing, pour the concrete anyway” – resonated well with his practical audience, ending conference business on a high note.

Catching up with friends and meeting new faces was in full flow over the morning tea, lunch and later at the awards dinner. Guests that evening enjoyed a delicious meal, steered by DINZ executive chef Graham Brown, who worked with Hotel Ashburton chef Manali Patankar on its creation. The menu included an entrée of Silver Fern Farms venison carpaccio – dukkah crusted venison, parmesan tuile, pickled baby radish, black truffle oil and rocket – and main course of herbed venison rump, with quinoa and feta pattie, baby carrots, garlic portabello and pinot jus. 

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Pushing New Zealand velvet boundaries in Asia

Korean nutraceutical company Korean Ginseng Corporation (KGC) continues to push boundaries with the launch this month of a new product containing New Zealand deer velvet called ‘Returning’, in its Cheon Nok range.

“This is KGC’s first product in the range that doesn’t contain ginseng,” reported Rhys Griffiths, whose remit has now also expanded to include venison as DINZ market development manager.

Returning: KGC’s new ginseng-free product. This contains New Zealand deer velvet, herbs and berries, “carefully selected for women’s recovery.” A box of ten 70ml pouches is retailing at KRW 100,000 (around NZ$120, at the time of writing).

A 30 second advertisement has been screening on the main TV channels since 23 April, targeting youth, females returning to the workforce after having children, with anti-fatigue messaging.

In his Deer Industry Conference presentation, Griffiths reiterated the start to this velvet season in Korea and China had been the “most complicated” he had seen during his 15 years with DINZ.  There were problems at the wholesale level, but “not in the retail side of things” where demand was strong throughout. This was seen in the 32 new health food products launched in the market “last year alone.”

Two other pharmaceutical companies – Yuhan and Kwang Dong – are “leading the pack” in looking at new functional health food products, using New Zealand velvet, focusing on anti-fatigue and immune function, he reported. These will require human clinical studies and Korean Food and Drug Administration approval for marketing claims. Griffiths also knows of at least two other companies working in the space.

“[The work being done] will provide scientific evidence and boost consumption through all channels,” said Griffiths, who expects to see them launched within the next year.

The new Nature’s Superpower Supplement messaging will be important to support activity.

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Marketers’ activities improving venison returns

Venison companies retain their focus on improving returns through diversifying sales to three regions, the US, China and Europe.

The marketers panel (left to right): Chris Duncan (Duncan NZ), Matt Gibson (First Light), John Sadler (Mountain River Venison), Terry O’Connell (Alliance), Peter Robinson (Silver Fern Farms), Rhys Griffiths (DINZ) and session chair Mark McCoard (NZDFA).

Plenty of work is underway in the US and China, updates from Alliance, Duncan NZ, First Light, Mountain River Venison and Silver Fern Farms at the Deer Industry Conference showed.

With the US foodservice market “on a steady road to recovery,” Duncan NZ's marketing manager Chris Duncan, has been hosting inbound customer visits for the first time in three years this year.

His focus is on “maximising the value and volume of product sold into US foodservice”, he explained.

All five New Zealand venison companies are collaborating, with their US-based representatives, in a DINZ-coordinated New Zealand venison stand at the massive National Restaurant Association (NRA) trade show in Chicago later this month.

Silver Fern Farms is investing in new consumer insights research in the US to ensure their retail products hit the right consumer segments, noted Silver Fern Farms general manager sales Peter Robinson.

Alliance and its Chinese in-market partner Grand Farm have launched a range of retail products in selected Chinese supermarkets and Grand Farm’s own branded stores. It is now also re-engaging with Chinese foodservice through its Shanghai-based importers, reported Alliance sales manager Terry O’Connell.

O’Connell pointed to figures showing Europe’s share of Alliance venison sales today is 38 percent, compared to 53 percent in 2017. The deer sector’s aim to diversify was on target.

“We’ve cracked it,” he thought. “It’s going to give us the best opportunity to grow value.”

The five companies have just submitted a joint application for promotional support from MPI’s Sustainable Food & Fibres Future fund to invest in growing venison sales through USA supermarkets.

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”Hunting hipsters” in the sights in the US

Premiums are being sought in the gigantic US retail market with new venison products, including New Zealand elk, health supplements and petfood.

“Hunting hipsters” are in the sights of First Light’s current promotion campaign in the US, reported First Light’s general manager venison Matt Gibson to conference.

Bow-wielding US hunters “who like the idea of hunting but are unlikely to ever kill a stag,” are a key target for First Light. As tribal followers of influencers like Cameron Hanes, they have high disposable income and buy online or at speciality retail stores.

Eight New Zealand elk products have been added to First Light’s ecommerce website and a new venison steak will join the 12-product venison range in June.

The company’s retail programme has been “going very, very well,” he  reported with turnover expected to grow 40 percent this year on last year.

A new First Light-branded premium venison petfood range, “allows us to add a significant premium to bones and offals.” Two new micronutrient capsules will also be launched in the next two months adding value to co-products, he said.

Force of Nature’s new ‘Ancestral Blend’ ground venison brick includes New Zealand venison, mixed with New Zealand venison heart and liver and beef.

New Zealand Elk has also been added to Mountain River Venison’s range for US brand, the regenerative specialist, Force of Nature, marketing director John Sadler reported to the Deer Industry Conference.

Elk is commonly recognised by US hunters and has potential for higher returns to New Zealand farmers as the category grows, he noted.

‘Ancestral Blend’ a venison/beef ground mince brick, has been added to Force of Nature’s offering, along with a ‘Big Game Box’ of a variety of grass-fed New Zealand venison cuts.

Silver Fern Farms has been driving the growth and leading the venison/elk retail subcategory across the US. It will launch its 100% Grass-Fed venison brand later this year, to add to its beef and lamb retail ranges, and expand its venison range, reported Silver Fern Farms’ general manager sales Peter Robinson. Being able to offer the three species to its customers will help sales.

The new range focuses on 100 percent grass-fed animals, which have never had antibiotics, added hormones or been raised in feedlots.

The first two criteria will not be easy, Robinson recognises, but “it’s what consumers are asking us for,” and the company has identified venison farmers “who can deliver.”

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Study shows real impact of deer farms on stream health

A “unique data set – the only one of its kind in the country,” on stream health on deer farms, has been developed in a five-year DINZ/AgResearch project.  

An update on progress in the study undertaking long-term monitoring of deer impacts on waterways in hill- and high -country systems, was given by AgResearch’s Brian Thompson to Deer Science Success workshop groups at the Deer Industry Conference.

Involving five years of monitoring over 10 water catchments – three in the North Island and seven in the South Island – the study was undertaken by AgResearch, with funding from the New Zealand Deer Industry Research Trust.

AgResearch PhD Bryan Thompson answering questions on his work at the Science Success workshop.

Thompson explained work had involved six-monthly surveys of the farms’ water catchment areas, monthly water sampling by participating deer farmers, the development of a new visual assessment tool and trialling of new eDNA technology from 2020, which proved both cost-effective and easy-to-use.

The team’s work showed there is a large variability between catchments and that seasonal changes are also very important when looking at water quality, he said. The final results are being collated and will be shared with other groups when finalised.

His message for deer farmers was that measurement to see what the actual impacts are is key.

“Without doing that you can’t argue with anyone about what the negatives are.”

DINZ will be using the results of the study to support work at regional level to allow for greater farmer-lead management of waterways, rather than the blanket one-size-fits-all rules being imposed by central government.

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Study proves deer velvet does help reduce tiredness

The first results are coming out from the study looking into the relationship between deer velvet supplements and fatigue.

Agresearch scientist Dr Caroline Thum.

AgResearch scientist Dr Caroline Thum updated the Deer Industry Conference’s science workshop groups about progress in the important study, funded by MBIE’s Strategic Science Investment Fund (SSIF).

Deer velvet has already been shown to enhance the immune system against bacterial infection, or improve temporary and/or long-lasting immune functions, she explained.

This study delved deeper into whether supplements from two grades of velvet, the well-shaped Super A Traditional grade (SAT) and the Super A Non-Traditional (SANT) grade decreased fatigue caused by lipopolysaccharide (LPS) inflammation.

Scientists at Otago University examined the movement and exploratory rate of mice treated with both SAT and SANT supplements, against a control group. The more affected by LPS the animals are, the less they move and explore their cage. The theory was that velvet would improve this.

They found the body temperature and sickness levels of the SAT/SANT-treated mice were closer to normal, than those in the control group. This led them to conclude that the overall “dietary supplementation of deer velvet halts systemic LPS-induced neuroinflammation and sickness behaviour in mice,” said Thum.

The team found some differences in the way SAT and SANT supplements affected varying immune system pathways, “which requires further investigation,” she said. In addition, more work on in-depth compositional studies of velvet-graded supplements will further explain their functional effects.

The results of this study have been submitted to be published in the Journal of Functional Foods.

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Burdons scoop deer sector’s top environmental award

Richard and Sarah Burdon, third-generation Otago deer farmers are the winners of this year’s top deer industry environment award, the Elworthy Environmental Award, and also the First Light Award, “for total commitment to farming sustainably with a strong customer focus.”

Deer farmers entered into this year’s Deer Industry Environmental Awards “clearly understood” the unique challenges they are facing and have a “huge sense of pride” in their journey, the judges noted.

Left to right: DINZ chair Mandy Bell presented Richard Burdon with the Elworthy Environmental Award, helped by lead judge Janet Gregory, at the awards dinner during conference.

All six entries, “clearly understood and demonstrated the various and unique environmental challenges they faced and what they had done, were doing, but equally important, what their ongoing plan was to mitigate and optimise the impact they were having as a result of their footprint on their land,” judge Grant Charteris noted.

The award's judging process left Charteris with the overwhelming feeling that “We work within an industry of amazing leaders with a strong focus on positive environmental outcomes as a major driver of their farming businesses.”

Other Deer Industry Environment Award winners were:

  • NZ Landcare Trust Award for excellence in sustainable deer farming through actions on the ground – Lyal Cullen and Marion Neill, Springdale, South Canterbury
  • Duncan NZ Ltd Award for vision and innovation while mastering a demanding environment – Scott Hassall, Iffley, North Canterbury
  • NZDFA Next Generation Award – Mike Humphrey, Green Hill, Manawatū
  • Gallagher Technology and Innovation Award – Simone Hoskin, Five Hawks Farm, Manawatū
  • Streamlands Export Ltd Award – Ross and Monique Moore, The Abarta Company, Waikato.

Congratulations to all of the winners. More information in the next Deer Industry News due out end June.

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Deer farmer and vet Richard Hilson wins 2023 Deer Industry Award

Hawke’s Bay deer farmer and veterinarian Richard Hilson’s “outstanding facilitation and communication skills” and his achievement of “enduring outcomes and productivity gains for the industry,” led the judges to award him the 2023 Deer Industry Award at the Ashburton conference this week.

Richard Hilson (left) was thrilled with his award. His famed grassroots sense of humour was on display when he received his award from Mike Wilkins (right) at the awards dinner.

This marked Hilson’s outstanding contribution to the sector and was the thirty-seventh time it has been awarded.

“Richard is an unassuming leader who has the intellect and understanding to ensure people feel valued and included,” his nomination read.

A vet for almost three decades and general manager of Vet Services Hawke’s Bay Ltd , before he retired in 2020, Hilson’s significant contribution to the production animal industry was marked in 2015 with the presentation of New Zealand’s highest veterinary accolade, the Alan Baldry Memorial Crook award. Many fifth year Massey University graduates have been enthused about deer farming by him over the  years too.

Since stepping down from Vet Services, he followed his passions and is now full-time farming with Karen Middelburg, is on the board at Smedley Station and continues to facilitate an Advance Party Group. He was a director of Johne’s Management Limited and is an active member of the NZDFA’s Hawke’s Bay branch.

As one of the testimonials supporting his nomination noted: “There are few, if any, other people that have quietly but with considerable personality and talent contributed so much to many areas of the deer industry.”

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Robbie Bruce’s unsung contribution recognised

Winner of the NZDFA’s 2023 Matuschka Award was Robbie Bruce. This recognises his nearly three decades of “tireless support” and contribution for the Taihape-Ruapehu branch of NZDFA and industry as both grassroots deer farmer and unsung contributor.

Bruce’s stags head trophy was picked up for safe delivery by NZDFA Taihape-Ruapeu member Andrew Peters.

Bruce became treasurer of his branch in 1995, also often doubling as secretary, helping out at working bees, fieldays and other branch events. He was often seen “towing a large trailer freezer all over the country” to local, regional and national velvet competitions.

His computer skills came in very useful early on “especially for managing accounting, tendering and paying,” and for producing the newsletter over three decades, according to his testimonial. He established, and was an original director for, Ruapehu Deer Marketing to operate the branch’s velvet pools and weaner fairs. Under Bruce’s watchful eye, his branch has “accrued a substantial bank account.”

This was all alongside running the family deer stud at Mataroa, initially with his father John. The “very productive” deer unit is today focused on velvet production.

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”Curious” win for MSD/Allfex Deer Industry Photography Award

Impressive photography skills were on show in this year’s MSD/Allflex Animal Health Deer Industry Photography Awards.

2023 MSD/Allflex Deer Industry Photography Award goes to ”Curious” by Gill McLean.

The hearts and minds of the judge were won by Gill McLean’s black and white photograph taken of a curious fawn, announced editor of Deer Industry News Lynda Gray, at the Deer Industry Conference.

“There were almost 80 entries, all excellent quality, making it difficult for judge Anna Munro to pick the top shots,” she related.

Munro had described the winning shot as “pretty damn cute, the eyes draw you in and capture the naivety of a young animal,” Gray said, adding Maclean is from a Southland deer farming family.

Sophie Hansen’s moody picture of a stag roaring on a foggy autumn Waikato morning scored the fifteen-year-old from a Waikato deer family her second place, while third place-getter deer farmer Angela McIntyre took a Double Take of two velveted stags.

Two photographs were highly commended by the judges: Grant Charteris for catching a ‘Mexican Standoff’ between two young stags in his camera; and Gill Maclean (again) for an arresting black and white silhouette of a mob of stags moving up a hill.

The People’s Choice Award, voted on by people throughout the sector, was won by a sunset photograph of the ‘Big guy rounding up his ladies’, taken by Rowan Larcombe.

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