What Are Feminized Hemp Seeds?

One of the fastest-growing agriculture industries in the United States is hemp, and that growth is happening rapidly. In 2016, growers planted 9,770 acres of hemp and by 2019 that number had skyrocketed to 511,400 acres. One of the main reasons for hemp's popularity among growers is the extraction of cannabinoids to make hemp products. Cannabinoids are the compounds like CBD in hemp plants that can be used for a wide variety of products from oils to salves to candies. When it comes to growing hemp and extracting CBD, many growers prefer to use feminized seeds. But what does that even mean?  

Male vs. Female

You might not realize that when farmers grow hemp, there is a 50/50 chance that the plant will grow into a male plant or a female plant. Although in a natural growth environment this promotes survival of the plant, it can be a problem for growers because male plants produce less cannabinoids than female plants. And since cannabinoids are responsible for most of the profit in the hemp industry, male plants mean less profit.  

How Are Feminized Seeds Made?

Since most of the profit is contained in female plants, as mentioned, breeders have engineered clever ways of creating hemp seeds that produce only female plants. This can be done in two ways: The first method is by stressing the producing plant into producing only female seeds. This process is called masculinization, a name that doesn't seem to make sense at first. However, the process involves stressing a female plant into only producing male flowers, a natural stress response that the plant produces when it perceives a threat to its genetic line. Stressing is accomplished by increasing the heat around the plant or by interrupting the plant's regular light cycles. The male flowers produced because of this process contain pollen that will create plants that are an exact genetic copy of the mother plant's genes. That means the new plant will contain only the female chromosomes of the original female plant with no pollen.

The second method of stressing is achieved by using ethylene-inhibiting chemicals such as silver nitrate or silver thiosulfate. These chemicals stop the plant from producing anything but male flowers so that the pollen from these flowers can be used to produce female-only plants.  

The Benefits of Female Hemp Seeds

With all the effort that goes into creating feminized seeds, there must be a good reason for all this careful breeding, right? The biggest benefit of feminized seeds is that growers no longer have to leave the process up to chance. By planting feminized seeds, a grower knows he or she will be producing a female plant. Otherwise, the grower would have to carefully monitor his or her crop and cull any male plants produced so that the male plants would not pollinate the female plants and reduce the amount of cannabinoid resin in the plant. It also reduces the amount of seeds produced that would need to be removed by the grower. Since determining the sex of the plant can only be accomplished after several weeks of growth, relying on chance also means the possibility of losing a significant amount of crop and reducing the amount of CBD harvested from the plants. Female-only plants, however, with no risk of male pollination are guaranteed to produce more CBD.

More CBD equals more profit and that is absolutely key in a burgeoning agriculture market. In fact, one study suggests that hemp farmers may be able to make as much as $40,000 an acre by 2023. Losing profit due to the production of male plants with less CBD and the additional work that goes into culling them just doesn't make financial sense and that's why many growers prefer to use feminized seeds for their crop.

For more information about premium hemp genetics, contact a local grower.