Autoflower hemp varietals are precisely what they sound like — they flower “automatically,” unlike traditional hemp species which begin flowering based on a daylight length. Autoflowering hemp can provide advantages to hemp growers, but they come with disadvantages. It all comes down to the specifics of your hemp farm and what your market is.
Hemp Indica and Sativa Versus Autoflower
Most cannabis growers (and fans) are familiar with Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica. Traditionally, “hemp” was considered Cannabis sativa and “marijuana” was Cannabis indica.
But, in reality, either species has varietals that have been bred to be high in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), or not. THC is the psychoactive compound in the cannabis plant. In the U.S., hemp is defined as cannabis plants with less than .3 percent THC. Any hemp crop that tests over .3 percent THC is considered to have “gone hot,” classified as marijuana and must be destroyed.
Breeders typically describe hemp (and marijuana cultivars) as more predominately one species or another. Sativa tends to be a taller plant, with a more extended flowering period, thinner leaves and does well in warmer climates. Indica tends to be shorter in stature and better-suited for shorter grower season. In reality, indica and sativa varietals have been extensively hybridized (crossbred) to each other.
But, all sativa and indica strains of hemp are what is called a “short-day plant.” They flower based on a set “photoperiod,” or essentially when the days get shorter and nights get longer. Short-day hemp varietals begin the flowering stage as days move into 14 hours and less light. Then we have the third cannabis strain, Cannabis ruderalis, aka “autoflower,” which has no photoperiod.
The Pros of Autoflower Hemp
Cannabis ruderalis is thought to have developed from indica strains. It evolved to produce flowers quickly in the harsh and short summer conditions of Russian, Central Asia and Eastern Europe.
Because autoflowering hemp does not require photoperiods, it “automatically” starts flowering quickly after planting, typically at about seven to eight weeks out from planting. Harvest generally is completed at around 65 to 90 days out. Indica or sativa strains require about 110 to 120 days to produce a crop. Because they go to flower so quickly, ruderalis plants are shorter and not as wide as other hemp strains. This allows for much more dense planting protocols.
This quick plant-to-flower cycle is a boon for growers in very short-day conditions that simply don’t have fair enough weather to promote a good hemp crop for 110 to 120 days. Conversely, hemp growers in warmer clients can plant succession plantings of autoflower for a continual harvest cycle. Greenhouse growers moderating temperature and light cycles can do the same thing.
Generally speaking, autoflower strains prefer hot and dry conditions. Having originated in Russia, they are reasonably tolerant of freezing conditions at harvest, although they are sensitive to cool conditions at planting time.
The Cons of Autoflowering Hemp
It used to be that autoflower strains were not as productive as indica and sativa cultivars.
However, as cannabis breeders like Colorado Breeders Depot have continued to perfect and improve on hemp strains, autoflower production has increased dramatically. Our Tsunami and Pivot autoflower cultivars produce a respectable 10 to 14% CBD. Also, g\etting to harvest faster and more frequently, with a respectable CBD percentage, can offset lower production.
But, along with lower CBD percentages, biomass and flower yields by lb per plant are also lower on autoflowering hemp than the more traditional strains. Autoflower hemp plants are just much smaller in general. But, growers do compensate for lower yields with denser total planting. Autoflower hemp varietals can be feminized, but, they do not yield well when cloned. Because a cloned plant is genetically the same age as the mother plant, a young autoflower clone will start producing flowers when it is much too small reducing yield considerably.
A final concern is that autoflower is traditionally considered more susceptible to mold and mildew in wet harvest conditions, although hemp breeders are working hard to develop strains that are more tolerant to wet harvest conditions
Is Autoflower Hemp Right for Your Farm?
Consider your specific climatic conditions, your ability to grow indoors versus outdoors and your final market when you consider whether to plant autoflowering hemp or not. Some hemp growers plant a more traditional indica or sativa-based crop and squeeze in a late (or early) planting of autoflower to offer a staggered harvest period.
Many autoflower varietals are perfect for the smokable hemp market and work well for small, custom-crafted growers that would rather have less to harvest, but more often. Offering a more continual, staggered harvest allows some hemp farmers to ensure a high-quality cure critical to capture a high price. Or bring to market a crop months before the longer hemp varietals are ready taking advantage of better prices. Having less to harvest all at once, but ongoing, can mean a more manageable harvest and curing process and help offset labor crunches by providing a steady stream of work rather than a demand for a glut of extra labor all at once when other hemp growers are also trying to secure a larger work force.
Whether autoflower hemp varietals work for your hemp growing goals, or not depends on what sort of growing suits you best, your climate and facilities and what your eventual market will be. If you are interested in learning how autoflower hemp can work for your hemp farm, please reach out. Here at Colorado Breeders Depot, we believe the essential part of our job is helping our hemp growers find their path to profit and that includes picking the right cultivars.
We evaluate, consult and advise our growers through the process, from assessing the market potential and risk to teaching you how to grow hemp. Helping our customers have an excellent hemp harvest is what we’re all about. Phone – (719) 275-7770. Email – Info@ColoradoBreedersDepot.com.