When it comes to cannabis breeding, cultivators have many factors to consider, from whether to establish a breeding program in the first place to which traits to breed for in new varieties. These are all powerful decisions that impact the larger cannabis industry, according to Mojave Richmond, co-founder of cannabis consulting firm BioAgronomics Group Consultants and creator of the popular S.A.G.E. cultivar. Here, Richmond shares insight into common breeding mistakes, establishing a breeding program, his best breeding advice and how breeding new varieties helps guide the cannabis industry—and the larger community.
Cannabis Business Times: What are the most common mistakes you see cannabis breeders making?
Mojave Richmond: I would say the most common mistake is that people breed for a current market as opposed to a future market. The challenge is always predicting what the next desirable trait will be within a plant, whether it’s for yield or bug or mold resistance or for regional growing preferences, meaning light-dep versus field versus indoor.
CBT: What traits do you look for in varieties you select for breeding?
MR: I tend to look for traits that are reminiscent of original landrace varieties that were available pre-Afghan hybridization. They’re predominantly narrow-leaf varieties that were common before the 1980s.
It’s a long and fun conversation, but during the late ’70s and early ’80s, cannabis cultivators bred Afghani hybrids into their plant stock in order to avoid prohibition, and they weren’t necessarily seeking desirable traits for consumers. They were more interested in desirable traits for avoiding law enforcement. We’re in a different era now where we’re back to, “Let’s breed plants that people want to consume” versus plants that help us avoid getting arrested.
CBT: Should every cultivator have a breeding program? Why or why not?
MR: No, I don’t believe that they should. I think cultivators should rely on research from within the agricultural community in order to be provided with the best plants for their cultivation needs and not necessarily rely on breeding. Most other crops have the benefit of using a nursery system and universities and councils that have studied the plant so that the farmers can just be farmers and not necessarily scientists.
CBT: What factors should cultivators consider before establishing their own breeding program?
MR: In a nutshell, breeding psychoactive plants is a kind of social engineering, you might say, because it dictates how society acts and feels. So, breeders have more than just the responsibility of creating a viable, marketable product—they also have the responsibility of what do they want their community and family to feel and behave like because cannabis is highly psychoactive. It’s not just as simple as breeding other plants that are just for yield and size and sugar content, for instance. It’s really more about how this is shaping the way people feel and think.
It’s a difficult point because we’re all in this to make a living, but the reality is people selected cannabis for very specific reasons over thousands of years, so it’s more about what society’s needs are from the plant, as opposed to what an individual breeder or cultivator needs. It’s the bigger picture stuff that I’m more interested in, personally. For better or worse, some things are not necessarily good for society and some things might be a little bit better, and it’s no one person who has the right to decide that. But collectively, we do kind of steer the boat in certain directions when we make selections. That’s just something for breeders to consider, is that we hold a lot of power in our hands and to choose wisely.
CBT: If you are a cultivator who is not necessarily breeding your own varieties, how do you go about selecting genetics?
MR: That’s challenging. That really requires the cultivator to understand the market that they’re working within and whatever region that they’re growing in, as well, because it might just be a matter of picking varieties for extraction versus varieties for top-tier flowers, and that’s really understanding what your market is. Some markets sell virtually no flowers at all and they only work with extraction, so that’s really going to tailor what type of a plant you want to grow.
CBT: What is your best tip on breeding?
MR: My best tip on breeding would be to plant as many seeds as possible—you can’t over-select. People like Luther Burbank, who was known as a legendary plant breeder, were more selectors than they were breeders, so working within a large population gives you the most options. Before you make your selection of which parent plants to cross, you want to have gone through the most possible plants.
CBT: What do you hope attendees gain from your Cannabis Conference 2019 session? What will they walk away with that they may not have known before?
MR: I hope that people understand that as much as cannabis is unique and exceptional, it’s just another plant like any other. I know I’m kind of contradicting myself, but we as an industry have to embrace it in the same fashion that other agricultural industries embraced their crop, while at the same time having the sensitivity of understanding that we’re all in this big transition. We have to do the same things that every other farming community and agricultural community has had to do in the past, which is pick the right plants and pick the right cultivators and pick the right regions. It’s applying all of those things that have already been set forth to us to the world’s most complex plant, but at the same time, it is just agriculture.
Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for style, length and clarity.