Firmly established in the cannabis industry as purveyors of top-quality cannabis genetics, Dutch Passion are renowned for inventing the feminised seed and creating strains such as Orange Bud, Power Plant, and more recently Frisian Dew and Frisian Duck. Here, Mahmoud Hanachi – Head of Genetics and New Territories at DP – chatted to us about the highs and lows of breeding cannabis and what’s in store ahead.
How did you get into breeding cannabis, can you tell us a bit about your personal journey in the cannabis world?
I started out as a consumer of the product. When I realized you could “grow your own”, I started doing that as I had some friends that were already doing it. And I liked it. A bit later I got to know my current wife and she happened to be the daughter of Henk van Dalen, owner and founder of Dutch Passion. He was professionalizing his business at the time and I was working a sales job at another company. He then asked me if I did not want to do the same “trick” for his company and I agreed. When I started working at DP, my knowledge about our beloved plant and the breeding process increased and I took some breeding classes in The Netherlands. We are known for our greenhouse horticulture and I learned a lot from these classes about breeding and seed production. Not just for cannabis but for plants in general. Of course I applied my new won knowledge to cannabis, as this was the only plant I was growing/interested in.
How have you seen things change in this domain over time – since you started out?
Since my start at DP we have gained a new market. Traditionally the small home grower that just grows out a few seeds for his personal use was our biggest market. But as more and more countries loosened up about our beloved plant and more and more countries are allowing Licensed Producers to grow cannabis on a big scale for their local patients, this created a whole new and legal market for cannabis. So the last few years we have supplied numerous Licensed Producers around the world with our high quality cannabis seeds.
What are the best improvements that you have seen in cannabis breeding over the years?
I think that the relatively new (minor) cannabinoids have done a lot for patients and the public opinion about cannabis. Dutch Passion have embraced CBD at a very early stage and together with the CBD crew, we were the first seed company to offer high CBD strains to the market. CBD has become a mainstream cannabinoid and has surpassed the popularity of THC by far. Because of CBD, more and more people started to see cannabis as a medicine instead of “just a drug”. More recently, we have pioneered by introducing the firsts high CBG and THCV strains to the market. Every cannabinoid has its own medicinal properties and we have just seen the start of it. So I think that by breeding and having focus on cannabinoid levels of other cannabinoids than THC and increasing the levels of these cannabinoids, we can improve the lives of many people in the years to come.
What are the major challenges you have encountered along the way?
Working underground. As growing cannabis plants is still illegal in many countries (The Netherlands included) you always have to hide what you are doing and are therefor also forced to work on a smaller scale than one would prefer. If cannabis becomes legal, it means you can work out in the open, on a big scale, with knowledgeable people from “normal horticulture/agriculture” and without having fear of being discovered and losing all your work.
What have been your major successes and the things you are most proud of?
For Dutch Passion it has been the invention of the feminized seed technique, which now is the standard in the industry. Dutch Passion was the first company that knew how to feminize seeds and this is what we have build our reputation on. More recently I’m very proud of the new strains with other cannabinoids than THC or CBD, namely our CBG-Force (high CBG strain) and THC-Victory (high THCV strain).
What is your vision for the next ten years of breeding? What do you hope to see and what are you particularly excited by right now?
For the next decade I’m hoping we will see more and more cannabinoids reaching their full potential and improving people’s lives. Who knows, may be the cannabis plant will eventually bring the cure for cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or other common (deadly) diseases.
Everyone talks about the importance of good seed genetics – what do you consider the principle markers for good genetics?
Good genetics is half the work. Environment and grower skills make up for the rest. But if you are a great grower and you are working with bad genetics, you can never achieve great results. So good genetics is definitely important. A good genetic is somewhat stable. We do not always have the luxury to keep working on a strain for 12 generations to reach almost 100% homogeneity, but we normally get to a result where there are “only” 3 or 4 phenotypes. For an “underground point of view” this is pretty decent.
What traits are you breeding for?
Traits we breed for can differ per project. Back in the days it would mainly be yield, THC content or taste/terpene profile. We have also bred on traits like colour or mould resistance (Purple #1, Frisian Dew). But as mentioned above, you can also breed on cannabinoid levels.
Have yours and other people’s definition of what makes good cannabis genetics changed since you began breeding, and if so how?
I think that some time ago, people were more easily satisfied. If they had a good yield, a decent taste and great high/stone then people were content. As the cannabis industry is evolving and professionalizing, growers have more demands nowadays. They don’t just want to have a decent taste, they want to experience a great terpene profile (I can’t blame them!). Also looks have become increasingly important. Frost covered buds with some violet hues are always beautiful to see and are therefore something that the more experienced grower is after. And we listen to our customers and try to give them what they want. Usually it’s the same thing we are after ourselves.
How do you know when you have hit upon a winner and which have been your biggest winners?
We only introduce strains we are happy with and which we think are great additions to our collection. But it’s our customer base that decides which variety is a winner. We see it in our sales or in prizes that the particular strain wins. In the 90’s we struck gold with our Power Plant and Orange Bud for example. High yielders with extraordinary terpene profiles and a knock-you-out high.Other high THC strains that did well are Lemon Zkittle (it has been renamed to Lemon Kix for obvious reasons) Mokum’s Tulip (Sherbet x Gelato) and Glueberry OG (a three way cross of Gorilla Glue, Blueberry and OG Kush). More recently our CBD Charlotte’s Angel (high CBD – low THC strain) has won numerous prizes for it’s medical effects, vigour and awesome taste.
What do you not want to do when breeding? Can you tell us about a significant mistake you have made, or something you regret doing.
You do not want to breed in an undesired trait. Sometimes you cross two plants in the hope you find the desired traits in the offspring, but you end up with exactly the opposite. A mistake that I have made in the passed (and from which I’ve learned) is to keep your genetic material in more than one place. If for some reason you lose the genetic material at one place, you know that at least you have the same genetic in another place as a back up. I’ve lost some great genetics before as I only kept it in one place.
What are your favourite Dutch Passion strains and why?
Mokum’s Tulip is definitely a strain that I always keep in my jars. Such a complex yet subtle terpene profile and such a smooth smoke. I like to vary a lot between the strains I smoke, but Mokum’s Tulip is definitely my “go to jar” whenever I’m out of inspiration or when I’m with friends and we want to smoke something special
Which are the most popular DP strains at the moment (top 5)?
We always publish the best sellers of the previous year at the back of our catalog. So for 2019 our top 5 was: Auto Mazar, Think Different, Critical Orange Punch, Glueberry OG and Frisian Dew.
What would you consider a good entry level strain for someone to try, and why?
As autoflowers are kind of fool-proof, they are always a good choice to begin with. As they flower automatically, you don’t need too much knowledge about growing cannabis to have a decent result.One of the sturdiest and high yielding autoflowers is Auto Mazar. I guess that’s also why it’s in our top 5 for the last years.
Can you explain genetic stability, how you achieve it and why it matters?
Genetic stability means that a genetic comes out the same way each and every time. To achieve genetic stability, you need to find parents that are genetically close to each other and cross them (and their offspring) amongst each other over and over again until you see that (almost) all offspring comes out similar. This is a time consuming process and can take several years and many generations to achieve.Our strains have not been bred to total genetic stability, but we do have a few strains that come pretty close, such as our photoperiod Mazar.For our traditional customers, the small home grower, it’s not a bad thing to have genetics that have not been bred to genetic stability. This gives the grower a few phenotypes, from which he can select a mother to keep for example. Also it’s nice to be able to have some variation in the cannabis you consume, as different phenotypes usually also have a slight difference in taste as well.For Licensed Producers, however, it’s of the utmost importance to have genetic stability as they want the product they grow to come out the exact same way every time they grow it. Consistency is key with these kind of growers, for obvious reasons.
There has been a discussion on our blog about genetic instability contributing towards the more negative or unwanted effects of cannabis such as anxiety and paranoia. What do you think about this?
Personally I would not agree with this statement. I would rather think it has something to do with the genetics of the consumer, their state of mind in the moment of consumption and the level of THC.
If you were to start breeding all over again knowing what you know now, how would you do things differently?
Spread the risks! Otherwise, not too much. Your growth lies in your mistakes. Trial and error. Every day is a school day!
What are you trying to communicate through the strains you produce and how has this changed over the years?
We are and trying to keep being innovators. We are always looking for the next best thing when it comes to cannabis. We introduced the feminized seed technique, we pioneered with CBD, we are now pioneering with THCV and CBG and we still have not seen the full potential of our plant. By far. So stay tuned!