Spring is here! I know that many farmers are beginning to plant their fields in hopes of a successful season. As the hemp and CBD market is well positioned for growth, many growers are rushing to the industry. Some may even call it a “green rush.” The U.S hemp industry is expected to reach $2.6 billion by 2020. This is great news for farmers, but state regulators are struggling to keep up. Many state regulators only have the resources to oversee the cultivation process. This means that there is no regulation for the processing and distribution of hemp. Those that process CBD in Colorado, for example, do not have to fill out an application or follow any testing requirements. This is the same in many other states.
As for seed, farmers are struggling to find reliable hemp seed, sometimes referred to as a cultivar. Many farmers pursue “high CBD” hemp cultivars, but CBD cultivars have a higher variance in delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Domestic hemp seeds have only been produced for a few years in the U.S. Many of our seed comes from foreign countries such as the Ukraine and Netherlands. This means that domestic grown seed has a lot of “what-if” when considering the THC/CBD concentration and germination rate. In the U.S., industrial hemp has to contain less that 0.3% THC. This means that if your crop tests above 0.3% THC then you have to destroy it. Hemp seeds that are grown for fiber or seed oil typically contain little to no THC, and they contain small amounts of CBD. This is because the plant has been breed to produce strong fiber, not resinous flower, which contains the highest concentration of THC and CBD.
When following the “0.3% THC rule” you have to avoid hemp cultivars that are new, or untested. This is typically seen when buying high CBD hemp seeds. In Colorado, many farmers have been forced to destroy their crop simply because their hemp tested above 0.3% THC, meaning it was “hot.”. This can be hard to avoid as the industry is in its infancy, but there are a few precautions you can take to avoid testing “hot.”
I have created this article to help growers find the right seed for their crop. I will focus on Colorado because they were the first to enter the U.S. hemp industry, and they currently have effective regulations and governing bodies in place. Through trial and error, Colorado has seen relative success in their state program.
Regulating the distribution and sale of hemp seed has been the most difficult part of hemp legalization. In 2016, Colorado published the first “Certified Hemp Seed” list in the U.S. They only listed high fiber and high seed cultivars. This meant that high CBD hemp was not included on the list. Since then, the Colorado Department of Agriculture has released one other list for 2018. This list contained more companies, but no “high CBD” cultivars. As of 2019, the USDA announced a “Plant Variety Protection Program” for “seed propagated hemp varieties.” This is the first time hemp has been included in a protection program. This is good news for growers in need of reliable hemp seed. Until the list is published, farmers need to be cautious.
In Colorado, companies that sell hemp seed must be registered as a “seed labeler” meaning that the company is registered with the state and they have provided the necessary testing requirements to show that the seed will not produce THC above 0.3%. This is a step in the right direction. However, this does not guarantee that the farmer will have no chance of growing hemp above 0.3% THC. There are many factors to consider when buying and growing seed. For example, weather and fertilizer have been known to cause a spike in THC. If a farmer gives their hemp too much fertilizer, too close to harvest, this could spike the THC. Other instances have occurred when farmers wait to harvest their crop till later in the Fall. The longer you wait to harvest, the higher the chance of your crop being “hot.”
There are a few steps you can take as a farmer to insure that you are buying reliable hemp seed. In Colorado, only buy seed from “seed labelers” or “seed dealers.” This means that they have been approved by the state. When purchasing, each package should have a labeled “certification.” This should include the germination rate as well. This can be helpful for protecting your crop when planting. If your germination rate does not match the stated germination rate on the package, then you have the ability to file a complaint with the state and potentially seek restitution.
As stated in the CDA memo to seed purchasers, “Until the Industrial Hemp industry matures, buyers of industrial hemp seed must beware and become educated. Even though related, seed law and industrial hemp law are separate. Variability in the amount of THC produced by seed varieties and rooted cutting clonal strains is not governed by seed law. If the THC level of plants produced from a lot of seed goes above 0.3% THC, it is the industrial hemp registrant’s responsibility to stay in compliance with the rules of the industrial hemp program.” This statement can be disconcerting for potential farmers. It basically states that industrial hemp law and seed law are different. Seed purchasers still have the ability to buy “non-certified” seed. It is the buyers responsibility to be aware of this risk from buying seeds.
Buying “certified” seed is not mandatory. However, Colorado hemp registrants have to include a “statement of verification” stating that they believe their seed will not exceed 0.3% THC. The risk from growing high CBD cultivars has led many farmers to focus on high fiber and high seed oil cultivars instead. In an email I wrote to the Colorado Department of Agriculture, I asked “What is needed to be included in the "Statement of Verification" to prove that my seeds are under 0.3%?” Their reply was, “Write a statement that says you believe your planted material will not exceed .3%. We just need a simple statement of you verifying you did some research and know what you are planting.” This can leave a lot of room for error when farmers are buying seed.
High CBD Hemp
As mentioned above, high CBD hemp varieties are rarely “certified.” State regulators are aware of the high variance of THC contained in CBD cultivars. Even if the THC concentration was at 2%, the user would not feel any psychoactive effect. But, due to federal law, 0.3% THC is the federal requirement for industrial hemp. Many plant breeders have found that it is very difficult to breed high CBD cultivars with minimal THC. Typically, both of the cannabinoids, THC and CBD, behave the same when grown. They are both naturally produced and concentrated in the hemp “flower.”
Currently, this makes growing hemp CBD difficult for small farmers and even large corporations. There is still a level of risk assumed when growing CBD. This is especially true for first-year hemp registrants in Colorado. Each registrant is subject to a state test administered by a state official. The state official will give you a 7-10 day notice before arriving at your farm. During that test, if any portion of your crop tests above 0.3% THC, then you have to destroy your whole crop. This is why it is so important for first-time hemp farmers to find reliable hemp seeds.
Finding What’s Best
In conclusion, there are a few takeaways from this article that will help you get on the right track when buying seed. First, when buying high CBD cultivars, make sure the company you are buying from has all of the necessary test results. This should include a CBD/THC concentration and terpenoid analysis. The tests should be from the mother plant, this is the plant that produced the seeds you are considering buying. If not, there is a stronger possibility that your seeds will produce a THC concentration above 0.3%.
Second, when buying hemp seed for fiber or seed oil, use the CDA Approved Certified Hemp Seed list here. Other states have varying “certified” lists, but Colorado has been in the industry longer meaning their approval process may be more thorough.
Lastly, don’t forget about the term “Buyer Beware.” It is important for hemp seed purchasers to be well informed on the seeds they are buying. Do your research on the company. Look for any bad customer experiences or reviews on the web, and make sure the company has the proper test results.
Farmers recognize that CBD is currently the most profitable hemp market. That being said, growing hemp CBD is the most risky when considering the definition of industrial hemp being “under 0.3% THC.” This hasn’t stopped farmers from entering the market, but it has created more room for failure. Take the term “Buyer Beware” seriously when considering CBD as your next cash crop. I hope this article will help your farm find the best seed to grow. Happy Hemping!
Sean Huber has been working in the cannabis industry for five years. His experience includes hempcrete construction, cannabis cultivation, social media marketing, and cannabis accounting services.