5 Tips for Cultivar Selection at Scale

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How the cultivar grows, its flower characteristics and whether it’s a budget or premium product all factor into cultivar decisions.

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October 2, 2020

A few Cresco Labs flower selections sold as premium flower in its “best” price tier. From left to right: Lemon Bean; Sonoma Cake; LA Wedding Pop
Photos courtesy of Cresco Labs

Catering to the needs of a few cultivars in a grow is manageable, but the challenge becomes producing a consistent yield of top-tier flower when working with a diversity of unique genetics. This leaves large-scale cultivators with the daunting task of growing a variety of quality strains while balancing operational efficiency. Curating what you grow is therefore essential.

1. Diversify your genetic portfolio.

With the wide array of cultivars available, cultivators need to diversify their genetic portfolios to maintain consumer-based interest. While selecting a few fast-growing, high-yielding, potent strains will meet inventory demands, medicinal and adult-use consumers alike seek out specific traits and novel experiences. Offering a well-balanced menu of sativa, hybrid, and indica genetics is a great place to start, but going above and beyond will set you apart from the competition.

2. Select for rare traits.

There are also numerous other valuable traits to consider when it comes to selecting that next winning cultivar. Beyond achieving an elevated THC content, cultivators should consider novel characteristics, such as specific cannabinoid production (THCV, CBN, CBG, etc.) and the ratios in which they occur; unique terpene synthesis (nerolidol, guaiol, bisabolol, etc.) that create distinct aromatic and flavor profiles; and appealing bud structure with a focus on stacking density, color composition, and trichome abundance. Additional considerations include growth and developmental traits, namely genetic stability, the time needed to complete the vegetative and flower cycle, and consistency in growth patterns and flower production.

3. Cater to specific cultivar needs.

Hardy strains can thrive under a variety of conditions, while others turn hermaphroditic and develop pollen sacs with the slightest stress. Your facility’s environmental conditions will affect the success of your plants, and fluxes in temperature or humidity could prove detrimental for sensitive varieties. Additionally, different cultivars require specific fertigation/irrigation to reach their full potential. Cultivar selection and placement should be dictated by the ability to provide grouped or individual care.

4. Look for disease and pest resistance.

Some cultivars show signs of resistance to common diseases including powdery mildew and botrytis. Resistant cultivars will decrease spread to your less-tolerant varieties. A botrytis incident can negatively impact yield, and while a solid integrated pest management (IPM) program is a must, you can only do so much once your plants are in flower. Failing a contaminant batch test, required by most states, can be devastating to revenue. Keep track of issues as they arise, and take note of strains that repeatedly fail.

5. Create your menu and product offerings with intention.

The cannabis industry is poised to become one of the largest new consumer packaged goods segments in the U.S. This shift requires operators to be mindful of the genetics they grow and the brands they become. The “good, better, best” pricing model can be used to differentiate between budget and premium-branded products. Select cultivars should be allocated to a specific brand to maintain consistency and consumer expectations. Consider the balance of labor costs and yield when generating branded products and associated price.

Drew Duval is the SVP of cultivation at Cresco Labs.