An appeal has gone out for more than 100 Scottish producers to diversify into deer farming in order to fulfill the growing demand for venison.
Industry body Scotland Food and Drink (SFD) believes at least 25,000 more deer need to be produced every year if Scotland is to prevent imports from New Zealand growing to cater for a UK market which has expended by more than 30% since 2006.
A new group has been established to increase production by setting up monitor farms and demonstrating the benefits and funding opportunities.
There are currently only 15 deer farms in Scotland and only 50 tonnes of the 3500 tonnes of venison production comes from farms, with the bulk of it coming from the annual wild cull.
SFD chief executive James Withers called on livestock farmers and other land managers to seriously consider the business opportunity.
“Retailers are crying out for more venison and only New Zealand is fit and ready to supply it. We want Scottish farmers to consider this diversification opportunity. The farmgate returns are very good but there are barriers to consider, such as processing capacity and fencing costs,” he told a press conference in Edinburgh.
“The maths here is easy. Scotland isn’t producing enough venison. Wild deer cull numbers are falling whilst demand for Scottish venison is increasing. The only way to meet that demand is to ensure that production rises.”
However SFD is also desperate for Scottish farmers to invest in more traditional production, particularly of red meat and dairy foods.
Chairman Ray Jones said food exports had rocketed in recent years, bucking the tough economic trends, and making the future as bright for Scottish farmers as it had been for a generation.
He said: “Our reputation as a Land of Food and Drink is growing year on year and we are developing new markets for premium products. We need a profitable farming sector, focused on the quality end of the market because the word is increasingly on the look-out for Scottish food and drink.”
Mr Withers claimed current exports were only the tip of the iceberg and added that Scottish cheese had the potential to be the “whisky of the food industry” as it had a great story, particularly with the island creameries.
“The Danes, the New Zealanders and the Irish would all kill to have the Scottish provenance and the Scottish brand. We can find the markets but we need farmers to have confidence in a global future.”