New Zealand has major export plans for venison

New Zealand hopes to make raising does, fawns, and stags on farms a big business. Relying on its natural advantage of ample rainfall to provide good grazing lands, the country hopes that its venison will become about as well known worldwide as its lamb chops.

Already New Zealand is one of the few top exporters of venison in the world. However, most of this meat comes from wild red deer, many shot by marksman from helicopters, rather than from domestically raised animals.

Red deer were first brought to New Zealand from England in 1851 for sport. But within 50 years they had become pests, damaging farmers' fields. Later they caused erosion problems by eating foliage on steep hillsides. At that point, the government hired full-time hunters to help control the herds.

However, it wasn't until helicopter-hunting was introduced in 1960 that the commercial industry took off. It has caused a considerable stir recently as helicopter hunters have reportedly sprayed shots around hikers in the forests.

One newspaper story, headlined "Call for End to Chopper War," detailed how airborne hunters were battling it out with stalkers on the ground.

"The deer farms are still building up their herds," says Gregg Brimmicombe, manager of Edmonds Game Consolidated Ltd., a major venison exporter. Currently there are about 100,000 red deer in captivity. The government estimates that by 1985 their numbers could top 300,000 adults and 90,000 "calves." By 1990, it further estimates, New Zealand's two main islands will support 1 million head of deer.

Helping to swell the population is a favorable tax break for deer farmers -- what pundits call the "golden hind" policy, referring to the female red deer. Under this policy, an investor can purchase a hind for, say, $1,500, and write that down as $150; the $1,350 depreciation is netted against current income, thus reducing taxes in the year of purchase. If the investor's tax rate is 55 cents on the dollar -- a fairly standard rate -- this means a tax deferral of $ 740 per hind. If a deer is eventually sold for more the $150, taxes are paid on this incremental income. Any reduction in value of the investment becomes a tax deductible expense.

These tax advantages have caused a herd-like rush among urban wealthy to own a piece of a deer farm.

Last year saw deer selling for $2,500 to $3,000, not including the sale of the antlers, which itself is a profitable product. However, with the high prices, favorable tax treatment, and export incentives, more deer came to market this year and prices fell to $850 to $1,000 for a farm-bred deer.

Yet even with the fall in prices, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries reports that "deer are a very much more profitable form of land use than conventional livestock systems." That's chiefly because of the high prices venison commands on international markets, especially in West Germany where it is considered a delicacy.

Velvet (antler) prices have likewise roller-coastered. Last year velvet brought $210 per kilo. But this year prices have fallen to $70 to $80 per kilo. Even with the decline, however, the ministry figures deer are three times as profitable as sheep. Each year a deer grows about one pound of velvet.

South Korea is the major market for velvet, using it in various herb teas and broths. According to Mr. Brimmicombe, the Koreans believe that velvet can somehow extend human life because the deer is one of the oldest animals in their land.

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