The American Elk Products Board revealed their new velvet grading guidelines at the recent NAEBA convention in Toronto. WHY did they develop these grading guidelines? Because much of the American velvet is overgrown and is causing the overall price for American velvet to be lower than it could be. This MIGHT be because many producers are using the International Velvet Competition as their standard.
There is no doubt that the IVC has been beneficial for the North American elk industry. All of us would like to have a bull that could win there and many of us learn about harvesting velvet from judges or competitors. BUT when we get greedy - when we try to push that velvet, we too often end up with overgrown, calcified, high ash content velvet.
The purpose of these guidelines is to help producers harvest velvet at the appropriate time for the production market. If all of us would follow these guidelines when harvesting, we would have a product that better matches the market, a better reputation as a group and we would be able to command a higher price for our product.
How They Were Developed
The AEPB borrowed heavily from the system used in New Zealand because they dominate the market and because they have been successful at getting the best price from the buyer. Of course, the New Zealand system is biased toward red deer. Even their wapiti are smaller than North American elk. As a result, the top grade in the New Zealand system is poorly defined. The AEPB also studied the changes adopted by the Central Velvet grading system and those used in Alberta.
The AEPB also spoke with the major green velvet brokers across the continent. All of them know what their buyers want. None of them provided concrete measures, but all of them agreed on one thing: it would be beneficial for all if we have a standard grading system.
Our primary market - at least to this point - has been Asia. They discovered the beneficial aspects of velvet antler. Without that discovery, belief, and understanding, many of us would not be in this business. Western medical science is different from the medical science in Asia. Yet, with increasing frequency Western medical scientists are "discovering" affirmations of techniques and cures that have been practiced for centuries in Asia.
What do we - North American velvet producers - really know about velvet? NOT a whole lot! Mostly, we have anecdotal or personal evidence that it works. If we or someone that we know has arthritis or some other condition or symptom which responds to velvet, then we have seen or felt the differences. It DOES work.
The danger, on this continent, is in diluting those healing powers. We could do that out of ignorance or out of greed. But we could make it so that it is less effective or so that it DOESN'T WORK ANY MORE. That would destroy our entire market.
What if overgrowing it dilutes its power so that it doesn't work any more? Our technology likes to extract and concentrate. What if the real power of velvet is in the synergy of the various ingredients and how they work together? For the domestic market, the entire antler is usually combined for all the different remedies. In Asia, the different parts of the velvet have different properties and different healing powers.
The AEPB guidelines maintain the traditional grades that have been desirable in velvet for centuries - simply because they do NOT know better.
Elk grow bigger velvet than red deer and bigger velvet than New Zealand wapiti - our major competitor. The system used by New Zealand has lots of grades at the smaller end and then 1 grade called Elk/Wapiti Supreme at the top end. That grade is smaller than the top end that we find here in North America. For the American guidelines, the grades at the smaller end were compacted and the grade at the top end was better defined.
An attractive chart was produced by the AEPB that details the measurements for each grade. These charts will be mailed to each American NAEBA member during the next month or so. By following the measurements producers will be able to determine the grade of their velvet and to clearly decide whether their velvet is overgrown.
These guidelines are intended to be a tool to aid in the sale of velvet. This is a commercial production system and not intended to replace or be compared to competition standards. They are intended to help producers cut velvet for sale.
The buyer, of course, dictates the grades. They know what type of velvet they want for their particular market. If the standards change, the AEPB will adjust appropriately to reflect the market.