New group established to increase Scottish venison output

A new group has been established to increase the Scottish production of farmed venison by around 30%, in order to meet the growing demand in retail and foodservice, and reduce reliance on imports from New Zealand.

The new Scottish Venison Strategy Group will bring together key stakeholders to produce a roadmap to increase production and meet the demands of the market, while demonstrating the role that venison farming can play within a sustainable rural environment. It will develop a major communication plan to encourage new entrants into the sector, and demonstrate the benefits and funding opportunies which are available, as well as commissioning research into understanding the market and consumer perception.

The Scottish Venison Action Group is chaired by Scotland Food & Drink and has representatives from Scottish Venison Partnership (SVP), the Scottish government, the Scottish Agricultural College (SAC), the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society (SAOS), NFU Scotland, Scottish Land & Estates, and the Hutton Research Institute (Glensaugh).

According to the latest reserch from Mintel’s, UK retail sales of venison rose 34% between 2006 and 2009, from £32m to £43m, with a sharper increase expected in the market since 2009. At present, only 50t of the venison produced in the UK – from totals of around 3,500t – comes from farmed venison, with the vast majority coming from the annual wild cull of red deer. However, the numbers of deer culled has fallen consistently over the last few years, declining by 10,000 between 2005/6 - 2009/10, and the UK has increased imports from New Zealand and Europe to around 1,000t.  

It is estimated that an additional 1,200t of farmed venison will need to be produced in Scotland – around 25,000 deer – to keep pace with demand.

Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead has backed the project and confirmed that the government will be working with Scotland Food & Drink and the Venison Group to exploit the opportunity in the market. At present, funding for deer farming is available to new entrants through the SRDP ‘Diversification of Rural Enterprises’ option, with LFA support meeting up to 50% of eligible costs, or 40% for non-LFA applications, but discussions are under way to consider additional government support for new deer farm enterprises.

He said: “I’m confident that improved collaboration and communication within the supply chain can ensure Scottish venison production is increased to match the growing demand at home and abroad.”

James Withers, Scotland Food & Drink chief executive, said: “The only way to meet that demand, without increasing our reliance on imports, is to ensure that production rises. We want to encourage livestock farmers and other land managers to consider this business opportunity. The farmgate returns are very good on deer, but there are barriers to consider, such as processing capacity and fencing costs.

“The sustainability of our food and drink industry, and our rural areas, is crucial to industry development and I believe venison has a significant part to play. The Scotland Food & Drink Industry Strategy is built on opportunities in premium, provenance and health markets and venison captures all three of these attributes.”

Stephen Gibbs, chairman of the Scottish Venison Partnership, said that increasing farmed venison production was the only viable solution, but it would take time, commitment and support. He said: “We know that the UK market is exceptionally buoyant, and we know that our game dealers are anxious to source more home-produced quality product while continuing to import as market growth continues. That demand, in my view, is not going to go away.”

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