The keynote sessions at the Cannabis 2018 Cultivation Conference March 13 in Oakland, Calif., featured Rare Dankness’ Scott Reach speaking on his unique viewpoint as a grower who built a state-of-the art cultivation operation and Clade9’s David Holmes, BioAgronomics Group’s Robert C. Clarke and Mojave Richmond and writer, photographer and consultant Mel Frank sharing advice on the most important aspects of breeding new varieties. Here are some key insights they imparted to attendees during their sessions.
“What I Learned from My First Year as a Large-Scale Cultivator” – Scott Reach
1. Automation helps increase quality control, consistency and efficiency.
Automating processes in your facility can help increase quality control and consistency, Reach said. For example, automating irrigation ensures that each plant receives the same amount of water each day by removing the opportunity for an employee to give each one a slightly different amount manually with a hose. Reach’s facility also has an irrigation room that can recapture 100 percent of the operation’s water for maximum efficiency.
2. A clean facility and clean employees help prevent pest outbreaks.
Reach’s employees have clothes and shoes that stay in the facility, so they cannot bring in outside elements like pathogens and pests. Many workers also tend their own personal gardens when off the clock, he said, and changing out of their street clothes when they come to work ensures that they cannot bring outbreaks from their grows into Reach’s facility.
3. Appreciate the reality of your situation.
Day-to-day operations, operating in an ever-changing and fluid market and finding passionate people to hire for your business make running your operation a much bigger task than simply growing cannabis, Reach said. Cultivators must deal with issues as they arise, minimize downtime when equipment breaks down and continue to look toward the future to survive and grow. Avoid complacency and have the right mindset for success, Reach advised.
4. Be able to change and evolve.
As pound prices keep dropping and regulations continue to change, growers must have a flexible business plan and the ability to change and evolve, Reach said. The day-to-day stress of operating the business can jade a cultivator’s love for the plant, he added, but a grower’s attitude and how he or she approaches business deals are the keys to success. Compliance and regulatory changes are abundant and can cost a lot of money, but the cultivator who remains positive and flexible will be the one who survives, Reach said.
“Breeding Cannabis Varieties” – Mel Frank, Robert C. Clarke, Mojave Richmond and David Holmes
5. Cultivators should grow plants that are popular with consumers and good for large-scale agriculture.
The most popular cannabis variety in commercial markets is Blue Dream, according to Holmes, Clarke, Richmond and Frank’s keynote panel. Blue Dream is easy to grow, has a catchy name, is moderately low in THC and has become the “Red Delicious” of the cannabis world—it is grown everywhere and is sold in nearly every dispensary, the experts said. Growers should pay attention to landrace breeding, or breeding plants whose needs are specific to their location, the panelists added, and should continue to grow varieties that are popular with consumers and good for large-scale agriculture to have the most success “We need more plants that fit that niche with different terpene profiles and different characteristics,” Richmond said.
6. Breeding has a long way to go.
“There’s a lot still to be done in breeding,” Holmes said, and the panelists added that in the current state of breeding in the U.S. and abroad, hobby growers are still transitioning into commercial growers. They acknowledged that breeding has come an astonishingly long way without any federal backing or university research, but that once these elements come into play, the industry will have a lot more growing to do.
7. Know what traits to breed for.
“Be the best farmer and most efficient farmer,” Clarke said, adding that part of becoming the best and most efficient is knowing which traits to breed for. Pest resistance is No. 1, the panel said, followed by knowing what people want from the plant. Growers should know why they are growing the varieties they grow—for who and for what purpose—always keeping the end user in mind. CBD and THC formulations should also be considered, and growers should know what percentage of each is desirable and grow varieties that contain the desired combinations of CBD and THC.
8. Embrace the tools available.
The cannabis genome has just been sequenced, and much more research is happening, the panelists said. Tools are available to growers for genomic mapping and for better testing and analysis with quicker turnaround times and lower costs, they added. Marker-assisted reading for genes can now be used, and Phylos Bioscience’s Phylos Galaxy is beginning to provide the knowledge on which strains are unrelated to help with deciding which plants to cross to ensure the stability of crosses.
9. Learn the tricks of the trade.
The panelists shared some tricks of the trade to assist growers with breeding, including collecting pollen in pollen bags, covering the branches you plan to breed to prevent pollen from unwanted plants from getting through and freezing pollen in foil or film canisters until you are ready to use it. Seeds can also be stored in a cool, dry place and will maintain viability for a long time, the experts said.
10. Think outside the box and diversify.
Future cannabis breeding programs and techniques will require cultivators to think outside the box, the panelists said. There is a genetic bottleneck of the cannabis genome that has resulted from breeding the same males for much of the cannabis that exists today, they said, so diversity will be key in future breeding. Cultivators should collect many different seeds and grow many different plants, with the ultimate goal of seed propagation where growers are not depending on clones. Tissue culture could also be a way of storing genetics, the panelists added. “You’d better think ahead while thinking outside the box,” Clarke said.
Top photo by Phierce Photography