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The advantage of feminized hemp seeds for CBD hemp farmers is producing an almost entirely male-free crop, saving time and ensuring the highest quality harvest. But, feminized seeds aren’t the best choice for every grower.
CBD hemp is a naturally dioecious species, producing separate female and male plants. Roughly 50 percent of a non-feminized hemp planting will be female and the rest male. To set seed, female plants must be pollinated by the male plants (in hemp, generally via wind). There are a few other species in the plant kingdom that are similar. Spinach is the most commonly known one.
For hemp fiber and grain growers, this is no problem. Hemp grain (aka seed) is produced from pollination, after all. And if you’re growing hemp primarily for fiber, you don’t care what the flower heads do one way or another (although most fiber growers harvest their hemp crop for both grain and fiber).
But, half and half male versus female plants create a problem for CBD hemp farmers targeting high cannabinoid production.
Male plants don’t produce much high percentage cannabinoids in the first place. The female flower is the star in cannabinoids, making CBD and CBG in the unpollinated “trichomes” of a hemp flower bud. Female plants will still produce cannabinoids even if they have been pollinated. Still, the most potent and valuable CBD hemp flower is that of female, unpollinated, aka “virgin” plants. It has been estimated that once they have been pollinated, hemp flower buds lose about 50 percent of their cannabinoid potency.
Hence why cannabis breeders developed a method of “feminizing” hemp seeds, producing seeds that will grow an almost entirely (typically 99 percent or higher) female crop. At Colorado Breeders Depot, we recommend CBD hemp farmers plant feminized hemp seeds if they:
Feminized hemp seeds are produced by stressing a female plant to the point that it will grow male flowers. This creates a “hermaphrodite” plant or one with both female and male parts.
However, because it was a female plant that produced the male pollen, it only makes female chromosomes. Any resulting seeds will then be female only. In the early days of cannabis and hemp breeding, feminization techniques weren’t always reliable. However, hemp seed breeders have gotten much better, typically using chemicals like silver nitrate, gibberellic acid and silver thiosulfate to induce the production of male parts in female plants.
Today, reputable CBD hemp seed breeders can reliably produce feminized seeds that are more than 99 percent feminized. For CBD hemp farmers, feminized hemp seeds are a huge plus, significantly reducing the risk of accidental pollination. It can be arguably said that it is impossible to compete in the designer hemp flower and even wholesale CBD flower business without feminized seeds.
Despite all the advantages of feminized hemp seeds, there are times when they don’t make sense to plant. Feminization increases the cost of hemp seeds significantly. For instance, Colorado Breeders Depot’s popular Cherry Wine strain is $750 for a 1000-seed pack of feminized seeds but $499 for a 1000-seed pack of Cherry Wine non-feminized seeds.
So, why might a grower decide to purchase non-feminized seed? Well, if cash flow is an issue, it makes sense to go with non-feminized. That said, don’t forget you’ll end up spending a lot more time rogueing out and removing male plants as your plants begin to mature. And time is money! But, if you’re well-versed in spotting males and have the time available, non-feminized seeds will save money upfront.
If you’re growing for fiber and grain, you don’t want feminized seeds, as we already discussed. However, there is another option in hemp seeds that are slowly gaining traction — tri-crop varietals that produce grain, fiber and a decent amount of cannabinoids to boot.
Colorado Breeders Depot’s Otto Boax, a tri-crop varietal, allows farmers to plant their hemp using fiber or grain techniques, aka direct-seeded and planted closely. But, when it comes harvest time, they have three crops to sell – fiber, grain and CBD. Tri-crop varietals traditionally aren’t as high in CBD content as true CBD hemp cultivars are — Otto Boax produces 9 to 12% CBD. But because the crop can be planted and managed inexpensively and the farmer can sell the fiber and seed, it can make financial sense for the correct farm operation.
Another reason a hemp grower might not purchase feminized hemp seed is because they are planning to learn to produce a site-specific feminized cultivar. At Colorado Breeders Depot, we help teach new growers how to feminize their seeds and sell open-sourced feminized hemp pollen for growers looking to breed their own.
Are you interested in learning whether feminized or non-feminized seeds make sense for your CBD hemp farm? Or, want to pursue your own site-specific, feminized hemp seed cultivars? Colorado Breeders Depot would love to help!