As the cannabis industry grows and benefits from increased funding and methodology worldwide, change is inevitable across the board. The seed industry is no different, with promising developments in product quality and identification resulting in more consistent quality, and cannabis seed professionalisation at both ends of the spectrum.
How cannabis genetics will be impacted
At present, there is variable quality in cannabis seeds, with many cultivars lacking uniformity and stability in a genetic sense. Because of this, many people opt to use clones rather than seeds to ensure a more predictable output.
As the seed industry moves toward professionalisation, one of the main positives will be homogeneity of output, where seeds can produce the same standard and consistency of plants as asexual propagation does, i.e., clones and cuttings. It should be noted that stabilising genetics can take years in some cases.
At present, companies like Pharmaseeds are working with breeders to encourage new and exciting genetic traits and stabilize the lines already in production. By providing a platform where the performance of the genetics is fed back to the breeders, breeders will be able to understand how crops grow in different environments and how they respond to different conditions.
As these new standards are set, this will bring a higher level of protection of the breeders’ intellectual property whilst providing sustained revenue from the genetics. This will allow breeders to continually develop and optimise the lines, constantly improving their products instead of only developing new lines.
Improved seed condition
Depending on the supplier, a pack of seeds may contain inconsistencies, anomalies, or damaged seeds- professionalisation would bring a higher standard of sorting and testing – which in some cases is currently not done at all. Some suppliers merely harvest the seeds and begin packaging, whereas others carry out thorough germination & viability testing.
However, some suppliers carry out viability testing before the sorting process, resulting in a much lower germination rate than if testing were carried out after the seeds had been sorted and undesirable seeds had been eliminated.
As professionalisation filters through the industry, more grey market and recreational seed suppliers will inevitably adopt the same standards and practises as the business-to-business, licensed model. This will lead to higher germination rates, more uniformity, and importantly, traceability – whereby a higher industry standard can be introduced, leading to a greater end product for consumers, along with a degree of purchase protection.
The American seed-to-sale model is an example of this, where a greater level of transparency exists, and customers enjoy better protection against damaged or mislabelled products. This level of monitoring also guards against third-party multiplication of seeds and decreases the risk of sub-standard products, which could tarnish the reputation of the original breeder.
At present, hot water treatments, along with priming and coating, are methods used to protect seeds from pathogens before shipping – something much more common in other crops than in cannabis. Whilst these techniques are shown to be successful, none of these methods are a guaranteed success across the board due to cultivar variations.
The professionalisation of the industry would, in time, bring better technology and improved methods of seed treatments and seed coatings, which could, among other qualities, improve growth rate, make plants more vigorous, and less disease-susceptible, ultimately decreasing the risk of crop failure. That has to be music to anyone’s ears.
Dr. Gary Yates, Chief Scientific Officer at Pharmaseeds, predicts a bespoke approach to seed treatments in the future, stating, “You might see seeds which look like they have been coated in different colours, for different reasons. So if you have a powdery mildew problem, you would order seeds with the blue coating, and if you have problems with botrytis, you would order the seeds with the red coating. This could be the way forward for the cannabis seed industry and is practiced in other agricultural crops.”
As the industry moves forward, legislation around licensing may become tighter. Buying licensed/registered genetics without a license is presently difficult. Still, tighter legislation could mean it becomes almost impossible for any large-scale producer to buy seeds from an unlicensed source. As the doors open up, for example, to the medical industry, they may close slightly on the current supply chain. Cannabis seeds are not regarded as a controlled substance in many countries and, as such, are not legislated. But moving forward, national governments may seek to force compliance with seed marketing laws.
As the license and registration process continues, it may become more restrictive to sell seeds freely, and you may require a license to distribute seeds or may only be permitted to sell registered cultivars. However, there may also be a grace period where the current seedbanks can continue to trade for a set time to get some of the genetics into the licensed space.
Dr. Yates explained, “This has been done in other countries such as Colombia, where there was a window to allow grey market seeds to be registered as long as they were stabilised and passed criteria specified by the Colombia authorities ICA. In this instance, the seed industry will no doubt boom, and highly sought-after cultivars will become rare as availability will be capped by time, leading to a mini gold rush of sorts.”
This is why Seedsman encourages seed collectors to stockpile cultivars so that they will not be disappointed by the lack of availability if that time comes.
Standardisation of price
Professionalisation may also bring standardisation of price whereby seeds could, for example, be categorised by their THC content and priced with a degree of uniformity depending on that content.
This could benefit purchasers, preventing trends and bringing a fairer price across the board for both breeders and growers. Dr. Gary Yates expanded on this idea, saying, “In the licensed space, for example, we see a lot of royalty [payment] models, and as professionalisation spreads, we may see more variation in payment method.”
The professionalisation of the seed industry looks rich with benefits for the end product – pathogen protection, improved yields, assurance of quality, and crop survival are certainly desirable outcomes – but the impact on suppliers remains to be seen. The best way to ensure healthy seeds is to buy them from banks with a good reputation and history, such as Seedsman, who store seeds correctly and keep diversifying the range – as it may become limited in the not-too-distant future.
The seed industry has continued to grow under prohibition, and therefore even with stricter legislation, it will no doubt continue to thrive and develop for the better.