Highlands & Islands

Venison boom hampered by lack of deer farm growth

Red deer Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption By some estimates the demand for venison has grown by 400% in recent years

Scotland could lose out on a multi-million pound business if more is not done to encourage deer farming, according to the industry.

Despite huge growth in UK venison sales, supply of wild and farmed meat has not kept up with consumer demand.

That has led to imports from as far afield as New Zealand to fill the gap.

Ministers said they were supportive of the industry and that farmers were entitled to apply for payments via the Common Agricultural Policy.

In recent years venison has become a staple on most supermarkets shelves, with all reporting a massive increase in sales.

'Growing exponentially'

Ali Loder, a red deer farmer at Glenkindie in Aberdeenshire, said the growth in the sector had been driven by its perceived health benefits.

He said: "A lot of the chefs on TV are using it now and that's attracted a lot of people to the meat and its demand has just growth exponentially and we simply can't meet the demand in the UK."

Dick Playfair, secretary of the Scottish Venison Partnership, which is trying to stimulate both growth in demand and supply, said the meat's popularity had grown dramatically in the past ten years.

He said: "Some estimates have been as high as the market growing by 400%. We're slightly more modest in our outlook and really are looking at a 10% growth, which is I think is realistic."

Despite the growth in the market, the number of wild deer being shot in Scotland has remained static, with conservationists saying it is at a sustainable level that cannot grow any further.

That has led to calls for an increase in the number of deer farms to cope with demand.

Until then that demand is being met with imports.

Mr Loder, who has been a deer farmer for 12 years, added: "The problem is that you cannot just turn on a tap and increase numbers. It is not like a factory where you can buy more widgets, you can't just make more venison.

"It takes a while to build up stock and farms."

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption The Scottish government said deer farmers were eligible to claim for support through the Common Agricultural Policy

A Scottish government spokesman said: "We are very supportive of efforts by the deer farming industry to seize market opportunities to grow the rural economy.

"Since 2015, deer farming has been eligible for direct payments through Common Agricultural Policy schemes.

"Venison operations can also apply to the Food Processing, Marketing and Cooperation EU grant scheme for support to expand their processing facilities."

He added: "For example, a grant of £142,581 was recently awarded to Downfield Ltd to enhance their venison processing operations. This will enable the company to supply venison from both farmed and wild deer all year."

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