Deer farmers' exclusion from subsidies 'shameful inequality'

ONE of the pioneers of the farmed deer sector in Scotland has taken exception to what he sees as self-interest being shown in the beef and sheep sectors as the Single Farm Payment develops.

It is more than 30 years since John Fletcher started out farming deer on his small farm of Reediehill on the outskirts of Auchtermuchty.

Unlike sheep and beef farmers, those who farm deer have been excluded from any livestock subsidy.

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The issue has risen again with the Pack inquiry into the future of support in Scotland, with several involved in both the sheep and beef sectors saying the support scheme should not be extended to other livestock species.

Fletcher pointed out that deer are the only grass fed, red meat production system to be excluded from the subsidy scheme. According to Fletcher, this support has brought about a decline in the numbers of deer being farmed in Scotland

In his contribution to the Pack Inquiry, Fletcher says there are "shameful inequalities" in the current subsidy scheme and called for the very small number of deer farmers who were operating during the original "reference years" to be included right away. He makes the distinction between deer farming and other excluded enterprises such as pigs and poultry.

"Deer are grassland based. They can provide rural employment and the end product is healthier than other red meats," he says.

This last point is based on the low cholesterol levels in venison and, according to Fletcher who attends a number of Farmers Markets, including Edinburgh every week, this is a major selling point for consumers.

In his plea for equality in support, he also mentions that at present, the UK annually imports more than 1,000 tonnes of venison from New Zealand, part of the 100 million worth of exports from the deer industry in that country.

He points out that 30 years ago, when the Scottish deer farming sector was in its infancy, a similar situation existed in New Zealand, but since then the home industry has withered in the face of subsidies going to cattle and sheep while the New Zealand industry has prospered with no unfair support going to either the cattle or sheep industry in that country.

He believes that with a little financial encouragement, UK deer farmers could take up the challenge to produce more farm-raised venison. This could easily result in a reduced bill for imported venison, Fletcher says.

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He concludes: "More and more deer farmers are thinking about retiring.

"We have not been able to convince politicians and civil servants to provide a fair and equitable system free from trade distortion under which we, deer farmers, can innovate, attract new entrants and provide jobs."