Are you ready to jump into hemp and get your farm growing? It can be challenging to learn not only about hemp farming, but also the different forms of hemp plants you can purchase and plant in your field. In any business, starting with a healthy, well thought out foundation is often the key to success—the same can be said for hemp farming! Hemp plants can be sourced in three different forms: hemp clones, seedlings, and seed. Below, we will go through these in detail so that you can better understand the benefits and drawbacks of hemp clones, hemp seedlings, and hemp seeds.
1) Hemp Clones: Hemp clones are just that: clones! They are genetically identical and come from the same “mother plant,” which means they have the same genetic code within their DNA. When done correctly, mother plants are all the same phenotype and there should be only consistent growth across the field. Pros: Because these plants have the same DNA, they exhibit consistent growth uniformity and flowering time, and have predictable and dependable cannabinoid and terpene profiles. This last point is especially important, as this consistency makes it easier to monitor and track your field for CBD, THC, other cannabinoids, terpene content, and overall reliable compliance testing. Clones also have the benefit of being 100% female, because they are taken from female mother plants, meaning you do not have to hunt or rogue out males in your field (because there are none).
In addition, hemp clones (when properly hardened by a grower) should be ready for farmers to plant right away. Doing so streamlines the process and optimizes planting efficiency while maximizing vegetative growing. Cons: The biggest negative is price. Because these are premium plants that provide an incredibly consistent and high quality plant for the farmer, they come with a higher cost. Clones require multiple weeks in a greenhouse, and maintaining healthy stock plants is time, space, and resource intensive. Additionally, there is a concern with pests and diseases because hemp clones are grown in a greenhouse environment. If the grower does not have pest and disease management techniques, this could lead to a farmer getting dirty plants that will underperform in the field.
2) Hemp Seedlings: Hemp seedlings are typically germinated or “popped” seed that is rooted, hardened, and ready to be planted by a farmer. Unlike hemp clones, hemp seeds are created by crossing two parents, meaning there will be more genetic variation than clones. We will further discuss conventional and feminized seed below. Seedling pros: Similar to hemp clones, seedlings can be picked up or delivered and planted right away when hardened correctly by the grower. Additionally, when compared to hemp seed, hemp seedlings are purchased on a cost per living plant basis, meaning the farmer does not have to worry about poor germination rates (see below). When compared to hemp clones, hemp seedlings are less costly at initial purchase. Cons: Since seedlings are grown by a grower in a greenhouse, the same concern arises for pests and diseases – farmers are at the mercy of the grower’s pest and disease management techniques. Another negative is that because seedlings are derived from seed, there is more genetic variation across a field. In some cases, this variation can be vast and can cause a hemp farm to crumble on account of poor growth, reduced cannabinoid content, or disease problems (such as virus).
Lastly, seedlings will contain males. The ratio will depend on the breeder and the feminization technique. Be wary of companies claiming their seed lots have no males or 100% feminization. Cannabis breeding will evolve to that point one day, but that day is not now; we still have a long way to go. In short, the farmer will either need to personally walk their field or have employees on staff to consistently and methodically walk fields and rogue males (stay tuned for our future blog post “Male Hemp Plants: Pollination 101” to learn more).
3) Hemp Seed: Hemp seed can be purchased in large or small quantities and can be sent through the mail and delivered to your door. There are two forms of hemp seed: feminized seed and conventional seed. Feminized seed is developed from an involved process of creating female pollen from a female plant via colloidal silver through various application techniques. This female pollen is then used to pollinate female plants and will yield predominantly female seed. Feminized seed is often described as having a certain feminization ratio, such as 1000:1 or 2000:1 female plants to male plants. Conventional seed is created traditionally using male pollen to pollinate female plants. This type of seed will yield closer to a 1:1 female to male ratio.
Pros: Seeds are the lowest up-front cost option to the farmer. Farmers germinate their own seed, either in a controlled environment or by directly drilling seed into their field, which gives farmers more control over the process. Cons: This may be a more affordable option at first glance, but bad breeding techniques and lack of seed sorting can lead to a farmer purchasing a bag of nonviable seed. The risk exists where a farmer or purchaser incorrectly germinates seed, which could be the cause of poor germination rates. If the germination environment is too wet or too dry or too cold or too hot, the germination process is ineffective and poor results occur. Lastly, seed can carry virus if the breeder started with diseased parent lines. This situation can manifest as unhealthy, virus riddled plants in a farmer’s field.
Understanding the different forms of hemp plants and which type is best for your farm is an important first step in field preparation and planning. Whether you purchase hemp clones, hemp seedlings, or hemp seed, your choice represents the foundation of your success. After all, this is the end product you will either be selling directly to a processor or vertically integrating into your company as an end product.
Therefore, be selective and careful how and who you choose to work with in the hemp world. One thing we have learned is that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is! We have seen more times than we can count where farmers cut corners with their initial plant purchase – only to have regrets at the end of their season when their crop underperforms. Nothing is more heartbreaking than walking a field and seeing the immense effort with ground preparation, irrigation, planting, and maintenance only to have the plants be weak, have disease, inconsistent genetics, or a high rate of males in the field. Your entire season and crop can be wasted simply by skimping on finding healthy, vigorous plants for your field. As a farmer, you should take into consideration the possibility of males, disease, germination, and cost when determining the most suitable plant option for your hemp field. You may find that upon further inspection, a bit more upfront cost could go a long way in making your hemp farm a success! The old adage is true: “You get what you pay for!”
The future of hemp genetics and breeding is exciting and ripe with potential. New innovations are coming down the pipeline such as the breeding and development of new cannabinoid rich plants and female sterile hemp (say goodbye to your worries of pollination!). Varieties are also being bred and trialed for specific geographic regions, soil types, and farming practices. Stay tuned for the emerging genetics that are coming down the pipeline!