...the Pro's & Con's
by: Mike Ballard, Kyle Broge & Tate Dooley
There is currently a lot of disagreement and controversy in the hemp world around the subject of ‘feminized’ seeds. Hemp and cannabis oil production depends on female plants. When male cannabis and hemp plants pollenate female plants, energy is diverted to seed production rather than oil production, which significantly reduces oil and biomass production.
The latest trend related to this is the technology known as ‘feminized’ seeds. These are seeds that are treated with colloidal silver, silver nitrate, or silver thiosulfate to produce predominantly female plants. From thousands of seeds, a feminized seed will produce a tiny percentage of male plants, compared to seeds that are not treated with this method. ‘Natural’ (we’ll call them ‘regular’) hemp seeds will produce a far higher percentage of male plants.
So which is better? What are the pro's and con's of feminized seeds, and should farmers invest in them?
- The big advantage of feminized seeds is in their ability to produce mostly female plants.
- A small number of male plants makes identification and removal of males much easier.
- Cost – Feminized seeds are 2-4 times more expensive than regular seeds. Cost per acre is significantly increased. But seeds aren’t your only cost. What about nutrients? What about amendments? What about infrastructure? Just planting a seed doesn’t guarantee you a successful crop. Like tobacco farmers, experienced hemp growers know that there are many factors that play into maximizing CBD, terpenes, yield – and return on investment.
- You still get Male Plants – We were at a farm recently where a farmer told us he used feminized seeds and had very few males. As he was talking, we noticed a male plant right where we were standing. Just because you spent that money on fem seeds you still have to be vigilant, because 1 male can ruin your whole crop. This has a big impact on scalability. The larger your acreage, the bigger the risk you could miss 1 male and have a disaster.
- Inconsistent Canopy – Assuming you can identify them before they pollenate, removing males from your field puts holes in your canopy. As a nutrient manufacturer, we know that consistent canopy contributes to maximizing performance in the vegetative phase.
- Inadequate Research – The jury is still out on the genetic implications of colloidal silver and other silver-based feminizing agents when applied to seeds. Does a feminized plant produce oil to its full genetic potential? There is plenty of information about what happens at a genetic level when using feminizing agents. Silver-based feminizing agents create “female” seeds by stripping the “Y” chromosome off. This, when you think about it from a human perspective, is like having a baby boy that you strip off their Y chromosome and create a female. You have genetically stripped half of the DNA potential from the plant. The male contribution is very important when considering true genetic potential.
- 'Snake Oil' Fem Seeds – Anyone who has looked into this subject knows that some seeds are being sold as feminized, but are in fact producing large percentages of male plants. We’ve certainly heard the horror stories – and now we’re seeing the lawsuits that come with them. If you have the deep pockets to go with fem seeds, make sure you’re getting proven strains that have true Certificates of Analysis from authorized testing labs.
How to Succeed with 'Regular old’ Seeds
Germinating & Separating Indoors
Tobacco and cannabis farmers know that germinating a seed and producing a healthy plant is most effective when done indoors in a hoop house or greenhouse. It’s critical to provide a new seedling with ideal conditions for growth, including all of the nutrients, microbes and fungi necessary to produce a healthy plant. Regular seeds germinated in 50-plant SuperPlug trays can be ‘sexed’ indoors, so males can be separated out prior to planting. A good indoor germination facility is a worthwhile investment that will continue to maximize results down the road, starting with female plants that go into your field strong, healthy, and ready to produce.
Using Nutrients during Germination to Encourage Female Plants
The formal research isn’t out on this yet, but we’ve seen that certain supplements can have an impact on sex selection in plants. (Amino acid based fertilizers in particular promote higher levels of female plants as well as a higher germination rate in general due to its relationship to DNA) Talk to your Key To Life rep about which nutrients to use during germination to encourage female plants.
Nutrients can Impact Your Harvest Significantly
The business of hemp farming comes down to minimal THC production, maximal CBD potency, and maximum pounds per acre. What you feed your hemp crop matters. Too much of some nutrients (in particular synthetic phosphates found in traditional synthetic ag salts and traditional large-scale fertilizers) can encourage THC production. Certain micronutrients as well as humic, fulvic and amino acids facilitate CBD production. Contrary to popular misconception, hemp is a high performance crop. This means that yield is directly affected by how much nutrition you provide.
Seeds are Better Than Clones
Some farmers prefer clones because let’s face it – seeds are a little more complicated. Why not just buy clones and eliminate the problem? Sure that makes sense, but clones are not a cure-all.
- Clones cost more to buy per unit than regular or fem seeds.
- Yes you can clone them yourself, and once you have your cuttings, they have to be developed into a plant you can put in the ground. You’ll need an indoor facility to get them ready to plant in a field.
- Most importantly, clones will not give you as large or as productive a plant as growing from seed. From seed you get a deep tap root that matches the stalk. With a clone, it’s as if you were born with a 14-year old body, but still have to grow legs and arms, then learn to walk and eat. Plant productivity from a clone will never match that of a plant from a seed.
The Bottom Line!
The hemp industry is the most exciting, emerging industry today; and the market applications for oil, fiber and hurd production are infinite. But in any new industry there is bound to be a lot of confusion and misinformation. At Key To Life, we believe an educated customer is our best customer because they choose our products out of knowledge rather than ignorance, marketing or the latest craze.
Are feminized hemp seeds the way forward? We think that’s possible; but to this point, we haven’t seen that the added expense and risk is worth it...yet! The jury is still out, and you can count on Key To Life to stay up on the latest trends and technologies to continue serving and educating our customers to the best of our ability.
...Check back next week as we start to explore the multitude of revenue streams you can generate with your Hemp harvest!