Vince Sliwoski said it best in a recent issue of his Canna Law Blog: “The Future of Hemp is Genetics.” As he goes on to itemize, there are historically complex factors that are still working their way through the emerging sector focused on farming hemp for CBD, including the ongoing (and often painfully complex) education of local, state, and federal regulators, still-pervasive full-season growth model as well apparent oversupply issues as production and market fluctuations struggle to find balance with more farms coming online annually. As New Frontier Data concluded in its 2019 market analysis:
That dynamic leads to worries that more biomass will be grown than can be processed, adding further downward price pressure on wholesale prices. While retail consumer demand is growing, with consumers showing interest in using CBD for a range of health and wellness applications, lack of scaleable processing capacity will be a key impediment to the industry’s ability to capture the rising consumer demand.
And with prices for unrefined CBD dropping as much as 83 percent from 2015 to 2020, the quest for long-term sustainable revenue sources has become (rightfully) the obsession of many producers and sellers of cannabinoids.
Cannabinoids are King
Some solutions are already well into development, including Autoflower strains that allow farmers to plan more effectively for a predictable, manageable hemp harvest and in the breeding of hemp plants for high CBD content for well over a decade now.
But as the New Frontier market report suggests, there is fertile soil, too, in moving beyond the race to higher content. Hemp genetics might benefit greatly by refocusing from the familiar cannabinoid (THC, CBD) to explore the over 120 different cannabinoids that make up the genetic profile of the hemp plant. Most of these are not intoxicating and are not yet listed in state or federal regulations, creating a new horizon (and potentially profitable new market) for innovative producers.
Both canaigerol (CBG), the parent molecule to THC and CBD, and cannabinol (CBN) have been shown in preliminary research to have benefits in fighting inflammation, chronic pain, and nausea. As Dennis Alvarez (Straight Hemp) notes of these lesser cannabinoids, because that are “all rarer and more expensive than THC or CBD. Breeding and gene-editing efforts are bringing these to the forefront,” and although “these programs can take years to bear fruit” they are clearly an option for producers looking to optimize market differentiation.
Top quality feminized hemp seed
This is where a company like Oregon’s Sovereign Fields comes into play.
Benefiting from nearly a decade of research and development, the company takes new strains to what is called F4 before harvesting seed stock from the female plants. Understanding some basic genetic terminology helps explain the significance of this F4 standard:
- F1 is a first-generation hybrid, as in the crossing of Trainwreck with Shiva (Shivawreck) or
- When two F1 strains from the same batch are bred together (Shivawreck x Shivawreck) the result is an F2 strain
- F2 x F2 creates an F3 strain, and so on.
Producing seeds from only F4 stock year-around at production facilities throughout Oregon, California, and Nevada, guarantees both higher quality and more reliable traits when rotated into production. Additionally, Sovereign Fields has strict, lab-standard protocols in place to ensure no rogue pollen contamination and reliable seed. The results reflect the attention to scientific standards with over 97% germination rates.
As Sliwoski astutely points out:
If you want a certain CBD-rich strain — or a CBG strain, or a CBN strain, or any other kind of hemp strain — you would go to a seed company. You would do this even though seed certification is not addressed under the 2018 Farm Bill because you want to be sure that you get females and those females do not germinate into 0.3%+ THC plants. You would do this because you want proven genetics and you want warranties around those genetics. And eventually, you would do this because you want to be sure your hemp seeds are designed for production with certain types of herbicides in mind, a la Roundup Ready corn.
How to source hemp genetics
Tapping into hemp’s extensive genetic population is not an inexpensive proposition nor it risk-free given the nature of innovation itself which is bound to attract people more concerned with money than proper science. RJ Hopp, Director of Hemp for PanXchange iterates the importance of prioritizing reputable and rigorous science. I’m seeing so many different companies getting involved in providing genetics,” he acknowledges, but “I don’t think all companies are created equally.”
The strongest companies, he concludes, are “bringing over hemp geneticists that have been breeding in Europe for many years. They’re embracing data first, and the number of field trials I am seeing all over the country is very encouraging. These breeders are starting to build that foundation of data which is absolutely aiding in the creation of genetics that are not only more consistent, but they’re having the ability to regionalize and find strains that grow better in different climates.”
The bottom line is, as always in the innovation space, a combination of patience and due diligence. Hopp advises any hemp growers evaluating a new genetics offering to demand as much data as possible. In addition to COA’s, “ask about their farm trials and what they are seeing in the field, and see if they have regional data for your growing region and how different strains fared on different farms near you.”
As the global market for cannabinoids continues to expand, the pressure on American hemp producers to stay ahead of the innovation curve will only increase. At Sovereign Fields, we know that combining rigorous genetic science with strong business acumen is the fine balance needed to guarantee a deep, sustainable hemp industry across the country. Following science has worked in the past and shows a promising path to a prosperous and stable future.