Hemp Genetics CEO on Selecting the Right Strains

The sheer volume of genetics in the hemp and legal cannabis markets introduces a bit of uncertainty into perhaps the most important decision a commercial cannabis grower will make all year. It’s definitely not as easy a choice as Coke vs. Pepsi…(#TeamCoke!)

Whether you’re growing hemp for pure biomass yield, greenhouse cannabis flower for the top shelf down at the local dispensary, or producing exclusively for the extraction market, making the right decision with your seed or clone salesperson can often make or break a farmer’s crop.

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As part of last week’s “Experience Hemp: Summer Solstice” Virtual Conference and Trade Show, Beacon Hemp CEO Nick Stromberg gave a brief presentation laying out the factors hemp growers should keep in mind when selecting their genetic material at the start of the grow season.

“I can’t stress enough how very important it is to keep the end use of the plant in mind at all times when selecting the best hemp genetics for your farm and for the product you’re creating,” Stromberg explained to the virtual audience. “Am I growing for oil extraction, or fiber and biomass? Will I field dry it, or mechanical dry it? Am I trying for high end CBD or CBG production? Those are just a few of the sort of things you need to have in mind.”

How your plants get their start in life is another factor to weigh heavily when selecting strains, according to Stromberg.

“That’s another consideration: How are you propagating your starts? And if you don’t have a lot of hands on experience in this area, then we highly recommend working with a professional propagator,” he said. “Uniform, well-hardened seedlings are very key to securing success in this market.”

Evaluating the Seed Salesman

Hemp and cannabis growers have bemoaned a general lack of professionalism among breeders in the segment for years now, with the criticism only growing louder as more states legalize cannabis and hemp production and more growers get burned by bad actors in the seed game. It happens more often that you’d think, and Stromberg had some thoughts on how to best evaluate a potential genetics partner.

“The Certificate of Analysis (CoA) is going to be one of the biggest selling points that any seed salesman or broker will use to try to ‘sell’ you,” he said. “On that document, you want to look closely at both the CBD to THC ratio, or the proportion of CBD to THC in that strain – this should be more or less in the mid 20:1 into the low 30:1, and then whether the data you’re looking at is from a pre-harvest or a post-harvest CoA.

“Those THC/CBD levels should remain fixed throughout the crop’s development, regardless of growing stage,” Stromberg advised. “The pre-harvest CoA is your official CoA, and the post-harvest CoA will often go over the .03% THC cap and typically be in the mid to high teens on CBD content, depending how long the pre-harvest interval lasted.”

The seed packaging itself should have a certain level of disclosed information about the strain or cultivar contained within as well, Stromberg advised. While Association of Seed Certifying Agency (AOSCA) certified hemp varieties are currently few and far between (AOSCA certification won’t come to legal cannabis genetics until federal legalization is passed) with the certification process still in its early stages, a seed tag, or label, should conceivably track somewhat closely (generally speaking) to what corn and soy farmers see when they pick up a bag of RoundupReady2Xtend corn. (SPOILER ALERT: Right now, they don’t. A standardization of the reporting process on cannabis and hemp seed labels would be a great thing for growers in this industry, but that’s perhaps a subject for another day…)

“Federal Seed Act compliant labels will list things like germination rate and purity test results – those two specifically are legally required to be listed on the seed label – as well things like seed lot numbers, dates of testing, all those types of things,” he said.
Stromberg perhaps saved his best advice for growers for last.

“Ask for any additional information on the genetics and its pedigree – ask about their background as a plant breeder, the length of the breeding project, their production methods – was it produced in the field, or in a greenhouse? And when was it produced – ask these questions and you’ll probably be able to find the legitimate ones are willing to reveal this type of information where others maybe won’t.

“And ask for regionally significant trial data,” he added. “If you grow in North Carolina and all the field data is from Oregon, that’s probably not what you want to see. The good news is there’s been a lot more field trials planted this year. So, going into 2021, there should be a lot more field trial data for those breeders and seed salesmen to hang their hats on.”

Want to learn more about commercial hemp varieties? Stay tuned in August for our first-ever commercial hemp varieties guide (alongside our annual coverage of ornamental and greenhouse vegetable varieties). 

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