Why you Should Purchase Your Hemp Seeds From a Genetics and Breeding Company
Aria Fowler, VP of Windham Farms Inc
- December 3, 2019
Do your homework before you buy. It could save you from a big financial loss.
“Hello? I need to buy some seeds…” So you’re getting ready to plant your hemp for the season and you’re calling around shopping for that perfect cultivar, one that will be hearty in your climate, that will flower at just the right time and that will be resistant to mold and pests. You call several seed companies. Most don’t answer their telephone or they operate exclusively by email. Some who do answer sound like you’re annoying them. Others make your head spin with slick talk about all their connections, partner farms, vertical integration, and COAs. What? All you need is to purchase some good seeds for your next crop season. How are you supposed to choose not only which seed company to work with, but which variety is best for you and, most importantly, how do you know the plants from the seeds you buy will be healthy and won’t exceed the maximum THC allowed by law? The seed companies you speak to all offer you COAs or Certificates of Analysis, but is this all the information you need to make a good decision? What other questions should you ask? Genetics Companies vs Seed Companies Not all seed sellers are the same. There are general seed companies and then there genetics and breeding seed companies. Seed companies sell seeds and possibly clones or cuttings. Genetics companies also sell seeds but that should be all that they do. They should do one thing and they should do it well. You get something much more valuable from genetics and breeding companies; a whole lot more knowledge and comfort about what you’re getting for your hard-earned money. Genetics and breeding companies should know what the difference is between a strain and a cultivar and what makes a CBG different from a THCV dominant cultivar. They understand that just making seed crosses doesn’t constitute a new cultivar. They understand how to stabilize a cultivar so that you don’t wind up with a crop that looks like a mish-mash of random sizes and physical attributes. A general seed company who doesn’t know these things doesn’t promote a cozy feeling of trust between you, the farmer, and the seed company you are purchasing from. A seed company probably won’t know what alleles, genotypes and phenotypes are or whether or not they are selling cultivars (sexually reproduced from seeds) or strains (made asexually from genetically identical cuttings.) They may not have even actually grown, tested, and produced the seeds that they have for sale. It takes know-how to get hemp plants to produce seeds instead of just producing flower. They should provide a Certificate of Analysis which shows levels of THC, CBD and other cannabinoids so that the purchaser can see that THC levels are below the legal maximum of .3%. This sounds good but there’s a bit more to understand about COAs. COAs Everyone’s talking about COAs. First off, just what is a COA? It stands for Certificate of Analysis. A COA is generated by a lab when they test hemp products including flower, oils, distillate, etc. COAs give the producer and farmer information about how much of each cannabinoid and sometimes how much of each terpene that the sample contains. They can also show if there are any pesticides, heavy metals or other contaminants in the sample. This is all great information that provides assurance for both the seed producer and the buyer that the seeds will be hearty and produce appropriate levels of CBD, THC, CBG and other cannabinoids. However, here is a word of caution to the farmers out there: A COA will tell you how much THC, CBD, CBG, CBC and other cannabinoids are in a sample at one moment in time. The issue is, what moment in time is it from? Cannabinoids change in levels with time. What a COA shows one week will change the next week. Let’s say that you’re a farmer and a seed producer gives you a COA for a strain you’re interested in buying and growing smokable flower. The COA shows a great level of CBD, say 10%. The THC levels, however, are .3%. It looks good, right? If that sample was taken from plants that were in the fifth week of a nine-week grow period, the farmer should understand and expect that his grow from the seeds would most likely need to be harvested at that same fourth week in order to avoid allowing the THC levels to rise above the legal limit. If the plants are not fully mature at that time, you will not be able to grow them to full a maturity. There will still be an acceptable amount of CBD in the plant and it would be under the legal THC limit. This is just fine for you if you are growing for biomass. As a farmer, you absolutely must do regular testing of your crops and harvest them as they approach the legal .3% amount of THC. The COA is good because it tells you that at this point, the point where you have 10% CBD and .3% THC, you have an acceptable amount of CBD for the sale of biomass. However, if you are growing for smokable flower and if the buds are not fully mature at this time, then this strain will not be acceptable for your purposes. You will need one that can go the full grow cycle without exceeding the legal limit of THC. Unfortunately at this time, there really aren’t many, if any, strains out there that will go the full grow period to maturity before exceeding the THC limit. The second caveat I will make with regard to COAs is that results seem to vary from lab to lab and sometimes even from one sample to another sample from the very same plant. Labs try to be as consistent and sterile as possible, but there is definitely a margin for error. It is important to make sure to test at least some at the lab where state-required testing will be done so that you will see the same results your state testing will produce. Tests Performed by Genetics Companies In purchasing seed from a breeding and genetics company, you can be assured that the cultivars have been through multiple levels of a “proving out” process. New cultivars are tested to confirm that they are fully feminized. This means that only one or two plants in approximately 2,500 will be male or hermaphrodite (possessing both male and female attributes). Purchasing fully feminized seed means paying more but this price difference is more than made up by the healthy, cannabinoid-rich, seedless crop of female plants. A crop that isn’t fully feminized will produce males and hermaphrodites which will seed the flower, causing the crop not only to produce seeds but also lower levels of CBD, thereby ruining the entire crop. In addition to feminization testing, the genetics company will do genetics tests to determine dominant alleles. Alleles are different forms of a gene. This will show whether the plant is a Type I, Type II, Type III or Type IV. In other words, is it THC dominant, CBD dominant, both THC and CBD dominant, or a CBG? This helps to eliminate THC dominant plants and to determine which plants to keep or to scrap.
There will also be potency testing through the entire flower cycle in order to complete a data set showing how the levels of cannabinoids change as they grow and how they differ when grown indoors, in a greenhouse, outdoors, at altitude, and in various geographical areas. Do they rise in THC faster at sea-level? Indoors? In a greenhouse? There may also be a number of other tests done and data sets created to track other aspects of plants, such as how prone to mold a strain is. After the cultivar is found to be satisfactory, it stabilized to keep as much uniformity in the plants as possible. Summary In summary, a genetics company is a far safer bet for farmers seeking to know what they are getting in a seed cultivar. Their motivation will typically be to provide a predictable, high-quality cultivar to the farmers and to establish long-term, trusting relationships with their customers. Companies that simply sell seeds are primarily motivated by money. We are all out there to make a good living, but companies that simply sell seeds without knowing what the genetics look like take a serious risk in selling seeds with unknown genetics and this risk is passed to the farmers who trust them. Why pay the same price for questionable seeds when you can order through a breeding and genetics company that knows how their seeds will perform from start to finish?