From variety to variety & certified to certified, there is a-lot of critical information needed when looking into seeds and the genetic consistency of each cultivar/variety. One thing we have found as we've explored the seed segment of the supply chain, is to verify, verify, and verify once again.
Let’s think about the story of Jack and the Beanstalk. This guy Jack sells his family cow for purportedly magic beans. Now, let’s say that Jack’s cow was worth a million bucks and each magic bean costs one dollar. Jack is offered a million magic beans for his million-dollar cow, and he takes it. Jack then secures enough land to properly grow a million beanstalks, buys the equipment needed to cultivate that land or maybe he contracts someone else to do it. He’s spending a lot of money on this, but it will all be worth it when all those magic beanstalks grow.
As the weeks and months go by, stalks grow. At first, Jack’s elated…but then, as the stalks develop, Jack finds that these aren’t magic beanstalks and those weren’t magic beans. There is little to no value for the stalks growing on all his acreage. If only he had a way to make sure those magic beans were Certified, or at least the beans he was paying for.
U.S. hemp growers face the same stakes as our Jack. Regardless of some of the information being circulated, there are a limited number of hemp seed Varieties in the United States that are recognized as being eligible for the production of Certified seed. (blue tag seed). There just hasn’t been enough time for the seed industry to develop recognized varieties.
There are still plenty of sources with supreme genetics and consistent seeds, but as of now, track record and reputation play a critical role while the production of Certified seed catches up to meet the demand.
This year happens to be the 100th anniversary of AOSCA – Association of Official Seed Certifying Agencies. AOSCA was formed in 1919 and is “…dedicated to assisting clients in the production, identification, distribution, and promotion of certified classes of seed and other crop propagation materials.” Simply put by Chet Boruff, CEO of AOSCA, “its (AOSCA’s) purpose is to provide standards for certification and Certified seed to maintain varietal purity, so the customer is getting what they pay for.”
AOSCA is the entity that has established the guidelines for producing Certified seed of all types. Individual seed certifying agencies across the U.S. and in seven other countries provide the oversight and work closely with seed producers in the production of Certified seed. Certification standards are recognized in the U.S. Federal Seed Act
Seems simple enough, right? Guidelines and certification may be straightforward, given that most every major agricultural crop for 100 years has been adhering to these guidelines. Like any other guidelines or laws, the challenge presents itself is with ethical representation, adherence to, and policing of guidelines. In the Hemp space, these challenges are currently greater - since growers have entered the space en masse and because of unique growing challenges with the management of THC while aiming to maximize other cannabinoids.
Loads of people and companies are spending millions of dollars to get feminized seed, “good” seeds (genetics), and/or Certified seeds.
SO, WHY DOES IT MATTER? Short answer: Money, of course.
Longer answer: Remember Jack? This version of Jack just lost everything. Since female plants produce the Calyxes (flowers) and all the cannabinoids, terpenes, etc.… are in those flowers, and the current market demand is for those components; growers’ margins will be best by growing female plants that are consistently producing expected percentages of cannabinoids.
Alas, there is no physical evidence of pollen sacs (male) or calyxes (female) visible on seeds, and this is where things get complicated. If Certified seed were abundant, growers would not face as much risk. As it stands, Certified, blue-tag carrying seed, is not in abundance. This is where trust and reputation play in the near term.
In the resurrected Hemp space in the U.S., (legal) growing has only had 4-5 years to gain traction, within the constraints of the Agricultural Act of 2014, Section 7606. As we all know, those constraints were only released in December of 2018, when the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 was signed. The overall significance of this is obvious, but how this timing affects seed certification may be less obvious – that is, unless you’re a seed provider, going through the legitimate process. For those who don’t want to keep reading, the 35,000-foot view looks like this:
1. For a seed provider's cultivar to be considered a variety, it must be distinct, uniform, and stable.
2. Seed provider has 4 different channels to get his cultivar recognized as a variety that is eligible for the production of Certified seed. This is the first step in the process.
3. Recognized variety begins the certification process phases of Breeder Seed > Foundation Seed > Registered Seed > Certified Seed.
Each phase is a generation/progeny – therefore, producing Certified Seed takes time. Rights to a proprietary variety recognized by the U.S. Plant Variety Protection Act last for 20 years. Now, let’s cover how a seed variety becomes an eligible Variety, and then how a Variety is grown to produce Certified seed.
In order to have a unique variety, that becomes recognized as an eligible Variety (big V) and on the road for production of Certified seed (big C), it takes time. A seed grower makes application with a seed certifying agency, plants an eligible variety, and follows the guidelines to produce a seed lot of that variety that may be sold as Certified seed once it is conditioned and tested.
There are FOUR CHANNELS for a seed Variety to be ELIGIBLE in the production of Certified seed (big C).
An approved seed provider on the list from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), with an approved cultivar or Variety, or the license-holder of an approved cultivar or Variety, can apply for certification of that Variety in the U.S., and that Variety may become Certified.
The OECD Schemes for the Varietal Certification or Controlling of Seed traded internationally was established in 1958. Membership is open to OECD, UN and WTO countries, and there are currently 61 member countries. The principal aim of all eight Seed Schemes in place is to encourage the production and use of high quality seed. Each Scheme is defined according to a group of species of cultivated plants; at present, 204 agricultural and vegetable species are covered. By ensuring consistently high standards, the Schemes contribute to its members' evolving agriculture and trade policies. (Source: http://www.oecd.org/agriculture/seeds/)
A variety that has received a certificate from the USDA Plant Variety Protection Office
A variety that has been reviewed by the Association of Official Seed Certification Agencies (AOSCA) following the guidelines for variety determination that are found in the US Federal Seed Act regulations
A variety that has been reviewed by a seed certifying agency following the guidelines for variety determination that are found in the US Federal Seed Act regulations
The purpose of Certified seed is to provide a DISTINCT, UNIFORM, AND STABLE seed variety.
Different from all other varieties
All seeds within the variety look and are the same
Variety does not change characteristics from one generation to the next
The actual certification process to become Certified seed is as follows:
BREEDER SEED (WHITE TAG):
An approved Variety begins application process with BREEDER SEED (3000 seeds needed to apply) VERY LITTLE deviation is permitted – must be perfect
FOUNDATION SEED (WHITE TAG):
Second generation - is the progeny of BREEDER SEED Quantity has compounded Slightly more deviation is permitted
REGISTERED SEED (PURPLE TAG):
Third generation – is the progeny of FOUNDATION SEED AND/OR FOUNDATION SEED AND BREEDER SEED Quantity compounded again Slightly more deviation permitted.
CERTIFIED SEED (BLUE TAG):
Fourth generation – is the progeny of breeder/foundation/registered seed Not only do varieties need time to follow careful plant breeding techniques, time is required for the production of generations of seed that lead to the production of Certified (blue tag seed). Before we shelf this, there is also a very critical and practical matter that may be overlooked.
If you are a seed provider in the process of growing a reputable business, you know that you need to have a viable quantity of seed to bring to market. Developing eligible varieties and growing Certified seed takes time. Selling some quantity of your seed prematurely has a direct impact on your ability to supply the market with that credible Certified seed. You will need to be patient as you expand your quantities – not only because it is an ingrained part of the certification process, but because this is a business that deserves investing time to build it.
Right out of the gate, Generation Hemp, Inc. viewed companies providing seed as a primary interest. While all areas of the supply chain will enjoy inevitable growth, processing will be dependent on growing, growing will face exciting and dynamic challenges and fluctuations in weather, infrastructure, insurance, regulation, and occasionally fickle (and occasionally hot) genetics. Distribution and sales will also have to navigate a changing regulatory landscape and then face all the standard challenges and need for constant adaptation to meet the ever-changing tastes of the consumer.
Seeds are the kickoff point and the vertical in the supply chain that remains the most independent of all others. Everything will need to start with seed - arguably, even clones at some stage.