Elk Industry Brimming With Optimism

July 7, 2012

By Heather Thorstensen
hthorstensen@agrinews.com

Date Modified: 02/23/2012 9:20 AM
  
     

HOWARD LAKE, Minn. — A past president of the North American
Elk Breeders Association says now is a great time to get into the elk
business.Brian Wagner of Howard Lake has been raising elk for more than a decade.
Because prices are up in all elk markets, 2011 was his best year so
far.

The industry is optimistic that markets will remain strong in 2012. Prices are high because supplies are low. Some people got out of the business because elk product prices had declined, Wagner said.

The economic recession was likely a major reason why some people stopped
elk farming, said Paul Anderson, leader of the Minnesota Board of
Animal Health's farmed cervidae program. The number of domesticated elk in Minnesota has been dropping in the last five years. "We probably have 1,000 less elk in the state today than we had a year and a half ago," said Anderson.

Now, breeding stock are starting to sell again. Meat prices jumped from
$1.50 per pound on the rail in 2010 to $3.40 per pound in 2011. "Producers are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel," said Wagner.

Even with dropping numbers, Minnesota remains one of the nation's largest states for elk farming. A recent statewide inventory found 5,545 domesticated elk at 175 farms. Herd sizes range from 350 to a few per farm.

Elk are popular in Minnesota because it's a good place to raise
livestock. It has good grazing ground, good access to feed and an active
farming sector, Anderson said. "It's a pretty tight community of elk producers in Minnesota," he said. "They know each other and they help each other."

The industry is also stronger because of its testing program for Chronic
Wasting Disease. A voluntary CWD testing program for Minnesota elk
farms began in 2001; it became mandatory in 2004. "It helps other states as well as countries accept those products," said Anderson.

Asia, a major market for velvet antler, is one customer more open to accepting elk products because of CWD testing, Wagner said.

The last Minnesota elk farm to have CWD was depopulated in 2009. Currently, the state has no known infected herds.


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