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Venison wins food awards but no subsidies

June 2010 - Scotsman - Andrew Arbuckle

AFTER walking off with yet another top food award, John Fletcher of Reediehill Deer Farm, Auchtermuchty, yesterday attacked the Scottish Government for its refusal to give deer farmers the same financial support enjoyed by those in the cattle and sheep sectors.

The latest award saw husband and wife team John and Nichola Fletcher, scoop the top prize as the Best Small Meat Producer in the UK at the prestigious Good Housekeeping Food Awards in London. Among the winners of 16 categories announced at the event, this was the only Scottish business. Winners in other categories included big names like Tesco, Waitrose, Pizza Express and the BBC Masterchef programme.

On receiving the award, John Fletcher said that it meant a great deal to them to see venison from their 130-acre marginal land farm hitting the headlines and competing with very large companies all with their massive resources.

However, with a sting in the tail, he added: "Scottish deer farmers are especially disadvantaged by the government's refusal to provide them with the subsidies that beef and lamb producers receive."

Aggravating this situation is the fact that because English farmers are subsidised on an acreage basis, their deer farmers receive support.

He described the current predicament of the Scottish deer sector as "grave" with the number of deer farmers falling away from a position in the 1980s where there had been quite an interest in farming deer.

"Despite assurances from Brussels that we are eligible for agricultural support, the Scottish government has refused to accept this," he stated.

But yesterday he admitted that he was not optimistic that the Pack Report into the future shape of support to Scottish agriculture would recognise the farmed deer sector.

He and his colleagues had responded to the call for views on the issue but there had been very little communication from those on the Pack committee.

Last night a spokesperson for the Scottish Government urged Fletcher and other deer farmers not to presume that decisions had already been made excluding them.

"The Brian Pack report into future support for farming is still in progress and will not report until later this year. The inquiry team was specifically asked to consider the situation of agricultural holdings outside the Single Farm Payment scheme, such as deer farmers."

Despite the political problems, Fletcher was optimistic that the award, which was for their venison steaks and for Nichola's dry cured venison carpaccio, further underlined the claim that venison was now a mainstream meat.

At present, UK venison sales total about £30 million, most of it meat imported from New Zealand.

The Fletchers attend several farmers markets, where one of their stall's most popular lines has been venison offal, including liver, heart and sweetbread. They also make venison haggis which, as Fletcher points out, is the original haggis as the deer were on the hills before sheep came along.