It's one of our favorite times of year, when we get to plan and hash out (no pun intended, haha) genetics for the upcoming grow season. It is one of the most important aspects of season planning for several reasons, and these reasons drive the choices behind which genetics we choose for the year.
We plan for 2000 plants per acre, so at 3-7 acres this means we are looking to purchase 1000s of seed each year. We use seed vs clones as they are cheaper and hardier in the field. Because of losses due to natural factors, and to account for some males in the mix we typically overshoot the amount needed for the year by 10-25%. We look for reputable breeders with feminization rates above 98%; some have feminized percentages as high as 99.9%! Breeders accomplish feminization in a variety of ways commercially, typically using chemical sprays such as gibberelic acid, silver nitrate, and silver thiosulfate to force a female plant into producing male pollen sacks (hermaphrodite). The male sacks then self pollinate the female flowers on the same plant producing feminized seed. Choosing bad seed with high ratio of male plants or spontaneous hermaphrodism can result in significant losses, as the pollen sacks don't begin showing until after they are planted in the field. This results in having to physically remove the plants as well as being extremely cautious to ensure none are left in the field that may accidentally fertilize and cause seeding in the remaining flower. It takes many weeks of repetitive field inspection to ensure they are all removed in time, so it really pays to have seed that is reliably feminized.
We also look for stable genetics, or few phenotypes for a particular "strain." Stability can vary widely depending on how much time and skill a breeder has in developing a cultivar. The more time spent, and the more generations of selection and breeding typically will result in a more stable cultivar if done properly. We like strains with fewer phenotypes because it allows us to more easily calculate yields and field performance, as well as offer a consistent product to customers. The other side of the coin is balancing stability with overbreeding or inbreeding, which can cause undesirable traits or mutations. Our famous "Lucy" plant is an example of this, where we found a particular strain had high numbers of fasciation; leading us to conclude there was a genetic component to its cause. Unfortunately, the only way to truly know is to try it in the field; preferably a smaller trial plot the first year. We've found there is a wide range of integrity in seed breeders in the industry, and their claims do not always prove to be accurate.
The expected physical performance of the cultivar is also taken into consideration. This can include things that are often overlooked in cannabis such as disease and pest resistance, expected yield, and time to maturity. In Oregon, there can be unfavorable weather in late October, which causes things like bud rot or powdery mildew, so we look for varieties with high mold resistance if they are to finish later. As a farmer, you are always looking to maximize yields, but it must be balanced with resistance to pest and plant structure. Plants with large buds need to be robust to hold heavy flowers without breaking, while also resistant pests &f fungus that find a favorable environment in large dense plants. We harvest by hand, so to make things go smoother we stagger our varieties so they are not all needing to be harvested at once.
And of course, the most fun aspect of choosing genetics for us is the aesthetics: cannabinoid & terpene content of finished flower. This includes the taste, aroma, bud structure, color, potency, and effects. We look for flower with potent or unique cannabinoid and terpene content, but it must also reliably stay below federal regulations (0.3% D9 THC) to be compliant. Every year it seems there are new strains that have been bred for various novel cannabinoids to provide specific benefits or effects. like to ensure we have a nice rainbow of variation to covers all the effects & flavor bases so that there isn't a ton of overlap. It's also important to look forward at trends in the market and get to know the customer base to see what people prefer and are excited about. There are those that like to stick to the old trusty, and then there are those who love to try anything new. We also like to talk to our neighbor hemp farmers to review what they've tried and also to collaborate to ensure we aren't growing a lot of the same thing. We've found it is important to keep a good variety, appealing to a wide range of consumers and markets.
Look out for an announcement on our list for the upcoming planting season and as always feel free to reach out for any suggestions on what you'd like to see!
Note: yes we realize "strain" is not the accurate term for a cultivar but we are old school sometimes and like the term since it is still widely used in the cannabis industry. ;)