Why Growers Want Feminized Hemp Clones

Each year, at the start of hemp planting season is here, numerous farmers set their sights on achieving bountiful crops that yield a promising harvest for CBD production.

But as more and more states are finishing up legislation to pass hemp cultivation laws for coming planting season, experienced growers are beginning to see a shortage of feminized hempseeds and clones, and are becoming fearful that there will soon not be enough to go around.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced in April 2018 that it would regulate imports of hempseed, now that hemp is no longer considered a controlled substance by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). In fact, most of the industrial hempseed imported into the United States over the past four years from international markets are of the food and fiber hemp varieties.

Cannabidiol genetics, however, are still primarily a U.S.-based market. Even though a substantial number of U.S. businesses have been cultivating feminized seed from CBD varieties since the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill, farmers are still having a hard time locating premium quality feminized hempseeds and clones, as more and more reputable vendors sell out of their stock. As a result, the market demand for quality feminized CBD hemp seeds is as high, if not greater, than it was in 2019.

What is a Feminized Hemp Seed?

When cannabis plants are pollinated naturally or with traditional breeding techniques, they can produce both male or female seeds, known as regular seeds. As in most species, regular seeds occur with about an even split between the two sexes. This means that cannabis farmers who plant their crops with standard seeds have about a 50% chance of yielding a female plant from each one.

Because of this, growing cannabis from regular seeds isn't an efficient method. It would be like baking cookies in a bakery and burning every other batch! Growers who plant regular seeds have to make up for the probability of about half of their plants being male. Though male plants are somewhat valuable to hemp seed breeders, people who are growing for flower won't have much use for them. Additionally, too many male plants can spoil a grow, since there won't be enough feminized hemp plants to yield a substantial crop for CBD production. To avoid this, hemp growers choose to plant feminized seeds so they can ensure a premium grow every time.

Several techniques exist for producing feminized seeds. One old-school method is to stress out a healthy female plant by interrupting its light cycle during flowering. While that works to a degree, the more common method these days is to spray down female plants with a colloidal silver or silver thiosulphate solution. This technique allows growers to control the sex of a plant without any genetic modification.

Both colloidal silver and silver thiosulphate solutions are a blend of water and fine silver particles, and they work in approximately the same way. The silver solution inhibits the production of ethylene, a hormone involved in flowering. The result is a female plant, but one that produces male flowers with pollen sacs. Since those pollen sacs only develop on a plant with female genetics, that means female genetics are all they carry. When those flowers pollinate another female plant that has not been treated by silver solutions, the resulting seeds are almost certain to be female.

Treating plants with a silver thiosulphate solution results in seeds that will produce feminized plants almost 100 percent of the time, and many breeders have found this to be the most effective method for maintaining the integrity of the seeds and the availability of future feminized plants.

Growers who start their garden using feminized seeds can enjoy a number of advantages. By eliminating the guesswork of germinating regular seeds, feminized seeds streamline the growing process, saving space and time. Feminized plants that have been grown from feminized hemp seeds can be used to produce feminized hemp clones. A clone is, of course, an exact genetic copy, in this case of a feminized hemp plant.

Though there are many advantages for growers using feminized hemp clones, their challenge has been obtaining seed at a reasonable price point, with germplasm of sufficient genetic consistency to generate the high-CBD yields, yet be confident that all plants under management contain less than 0.3% THC.

Feminized clones are much more difficult to produce than many realize. The multiplication factor is a mere fraction of seed production, while the space requirement for stock plants and propagation of them is significantly higher---.

That being said, it is the only way one can relatively guarantee a female crop. Seed is extremely difficult to completely vet and know how well feminized the seed is and what type of variation the grower will get in growing that lot of seed. While many hemp seed companies claim that their clones are 100 percent feminized, that's not entirely true. Many of them fall somewhere into the 95-98 percent feminized range.

As more and more states are changing their cannabis laws, demand for feminized seed continues to grow. It is essential that growers of hemp for CBD or other cannabis products ensure that their feminized hemp seed or feminized hemp clones are coming from a reputable source, in order to yield the most bountiful crops per growing season.

Jim Kreinbrink