With a bewildering array of hemp varieties on the market, it may be difficult to choose which variety is right for your field or region. Some states and counties maintain lists of “accepted varieties”, but those are usually the result of regulatory expediency rather than a conscious effort to identify good quality varieties. In most cases, growers can simply request that new varieties be added so long as the correct paperwork is filled out. Even if a variety name is on the approved list, strain names are so often changed and exchanged that the name of a variety may have very little to do with the actual genetics that supposedly produced it. A name alone offers little guarantee to the quality or consistency of the variety. So, what’s a farmer to do?
1. Know your producer, make direct contact.
When working through intermediaries or brokers, take any detailed variety descriptions with a grain of salt. Unless the information is coming directly from the clone/seed producer, insist on being put in contact with them so you can ask your own questions. If the intermediary is well-established as an authorized re-seller or agent for the producer, then they should have no consternation about doing so (since permitted intermediaries would have agreements in place to protect their interests).
The producer should be able to tell you all about the variety they’re selling since they’ve themselves have grown it before, and possibly bred or selected the hybrid/phenotype themselves. Ask them how it grows in different regions, how the plant handles weather or pests, how quickly it matures, what terpene profiles to expect, etc. If you’re in touch with the producer, then you don’t have to worry about whether the name of the variety or the genetic description is “correct.” You will know the specific qualities of the variety from someone who has grown it themselves; at the end of the day, that’s whose information you can count on.
2. What testing has been done to verify clean stock?
You absolutely want to purchase clean stock! Ask your provider if they have verifiable tests to show varieties are free of viruses, viroids, bacterial, and fungal pests. Ask them what their IPM protocol is (integrated pest management) in both their young plant/clone program or seed breeding program. What do they have in place to prevent the young plants from being infected after rooting ensuring they will be shipping you clean plants? These plants need to arrive at your farm free of all systemic diseases. It is important not just for your current season but for your whole facility! Some pests and viruses are difficult to eliminate once they are on-site and you do not want foreign invaders making a home in your farm or greenhouse.
3. Do they have experience with large-scale, industrial logistics?
The hemp industry has seen explosive growth since legalization in 2018. Tennessee alone saw license applications increase tenfold from 2018 to 2019. This is exciting for the industry, yet new territory for most people. Very few providers have worked on this large of a scale and understand the logistics regarding timelines and deadlines for farmers working within a narrow season. Unless the producer has horticultural experience, people newer to the industry do not have the understanding to scale from 10,000 clones for internal use to 10 million clones to provide for a growing industry. The last thing you want is to get poor quality young plants late in the season or not at all! Ask your producer what their qualifications and experience are with large scale production.
4. It’s all about the ratio.
Many producers of seeds and clones are claiming certain varieties as “USDA compliant,” touting certificates of analysis as proof that the variety they’re selling does not exceed 0.3% But the % CBD or % THC in a COA is informative only for the specific hemp crop lot being analyzed. Even with identical genetics and growing practices, the percentages shown on one COA has little or no bearing on what to expect from another COA. There are just too many variables from one farm to the next like growing conditions and harvest timing
What tends to be more consistent across multiple COAs of a given variety, is the ratio of CBD to THC. Though these ratios vary too, they are more dependent on genetics than the CBD and THC percentages themselves. The CBD:THC ratio will tell you how much CBD a variety may be expected to produce for a given amount of THC. When evaluating varieties for their potential CBD content at a compliant level of THC, this is the only number that really matters. Some COAs report these ratios, but for those that don’t the math is pretty simple: just divide the “Total CBD” by the “Total THC” and there you have it. If the result is 25, for example, then that’s a CBD:THC ratio of 25:1. Check out our article about Understanding the CBD: THC Ratio.
5. Have the varieties been field tested? Do they have photos?
With such high demand for hemp, breeding programs have been hastily accelerated, and new varieties come out constantly. This is great for exploring new terpene or cannabinoid profiles or expanding upon desired features but as farmers, we need to be sure we are getting varieties that have proven themselves in the field. Ask your producer how many seasons they have grown this variety. With field trials also comes the data for growth rate, maturity, resistance to pests and diseases, and potential yield, all crucial elements to planning your season. We all know pictures are worth a thousand words; try to get pictures of the plants in the field and of the finished flower. The more first-hand knowledge shared with you about the variety, the more likely it has been grown often and well. If you are interested in trailing a newer variety see if your producer has a research program you can participate in.
6. Are they sun-grown and outdoor acclimated?
Sun grown is always the best when it comes to hemp for field-planting. Plants started under natural sunlight will have a more natural growth horizon, whereas indoor-grown plants may experience stunting, burning, or stretching. It is difficult to mimic actual sunlight with electrical lighting in a cost-effective way and being sun-started will ensure the plants suffer minimal shock from changing environments and light source. It is also important to ensure plants are acclimated to outdoor growing conditions before they get to your farm. Plants from inside facilities, especially coming out of domes, will lose growth time due to transplant shock. You want to make sure your plants are ready to take off when planted.
7. Hedge your bets; diversify your portfolio. Even if you’re buying from a producer you’ve had successful results with from years past, be careful about going all-in with only one variety. Though it is tempting to consider the greater crop uniformity that may result from a single variety, by diversifying your strains into 2 or 3, you will see the differences that can help inform future seasons. Comparing varieties can be useful at learning what you should be looking for and learning the breadth of genetic expression in the field.