Navigating and Vetting Seeds in a Crazy Hemp Market
Purchasing Seed and My Journey of Navigating, Vetting and Establishing Rapport
Being fairly new to the process of putting myself out there, our journey as an operation and constantly learning, I need to preface this with a simple disclosure: this is my journey and what I have learned thus far. In other words, you or others may have a radically different approach to seed acquisition, things I am not privy to, you may be. And lastly, if it’s anything I learned, those with a passion, have found a way. With that being said, PLEASE indulge me of what YOU have learned, what I and we are doing right and ultimately, let’s utilize this as a learning opportunity to grow from. It should also be noted that the seeds I am speaking to in this snippet are those for CBD and CBG.
Being that my wife and I both have “day” jobs, a 19-month old baby boy, 4 dogs and 2 cats the amount of free time that we have has been a balance of how much we utilize towards research, hands-on experience and networking with individuals in the hemp industry. We decided that we would utilize the 2019 year to work with others who were growing, to utilize our spare time to travel to expos, visit farms, visit processors/extractors, engage in group discussions, volunteer time with organizations like iHemp Michigan and as simple as it sounds, good business research and development. As we are gearing up for our first big leap in putting those integral practices and golden nuggets of information to use for 2020, one aspect we have been ever vigilant about is maintaining relationships with seed suppliers.
Purchasing seed. When it is said like that, it seems like basic business principles would suggest I can do a quick Google search, reach out to already known and established “powerhouses”, or even jump on social media and utilize networks to procure who has the “best” seed. For many in 2018 and even more so in 2019, we saw a proliferation of farmers and operations crying foul on genetics they had purchased. Either feminization rates were no where near what they were told or sold. Younger, greenish seed were being sold in bulk, due to a rush of licensees acquiring these for a late start to the season (and therefore breeders rushing seed to market). Or the all too familiar story of the consumer putting down a 10%-50% down payment on seed, only to be blocked or to never hear from the selling party again. The shady “joker” broker or just plain shady criminal taking and adulterating COA’s (certificate of analysis) to speak to a genetic that is no way shape or form anything of what they have or are selling. These are just a few of the industry hurdles I encountered in my quest to find and vet companies and individuals for the best seed. What were some of the things I took into account and how I navigated through the turbulence? This of course is not an exhaustive list as I promised myself that the posts and articles, I do each day are to be confined within that day, unless it is a topic I need to attribute rough drafts and revision time to. I am still learning, but as of today I will make sure to take into account all of the following points.
Point 1: Question Everything
Even though this market is still relatively “young” and the infrastructure and processes by which we do business are not cemented, it still plays by the same rules as the free market. I have a RIGHT to question everything and a good reputable seller or breeding organization should be HAPPY to speak about why and how their genetics are the best. Plain and simple. Too many people I spoke to this year, were blinded by the cash they could make and in doing so, threw basic business purchasing principles out the window! Having much beyond a basic understanding of purchasing and consumer behavior, I even found myself making these mistakes as well, because again, I let basic business principles go in lieu of the appeal of the “green rush”. It’s a good thing I surrounded myself with those who were smarter than me and had more time into it than myself. I could reach out to these individuals and organizations, question them and be humbled in my ability to be open and listen. As I started listening more and listening to my own knowledge of business, it was almost an epiphany, followed by a “duh”. Again, if you don’t know, you don’t know and I do not see any reason to be ashamed of this, but only if I didn’t learn from it. What I should ask and the accountability these companies should be able to speak to include these questions:
- First and foremost, COA’s! And not a COA from a year ago, if they are reputable and touting themselves as having good genetics, they will have relatively new (within the last 90 days) COA’s! You should be looking for feminization rates, germination rates and of course the content % of the cannabinoid in that genetic.
- Ask for COA’s that go back years if possible. This not only gives you a show of consistency and reliability, but it can also tell the story of their operation and what and how they have improved and learned over the years or months.
- A big one that I love is: ask for farmer or operation testimonials. These do not have to be something crazy and formal or even in writing, but send a quick message to the farm or individual and straight up ask them what their belief about the genetics are. This is a good time to inquire about customer service and business ethics surrounding their company as well. Do not miss out on this opportunity! A company can have great genetics and back it up with vetted and good COA’s, but do they follow up and take care of their customers?
- You should ask for pictures of the grow or of the plants.
- You should be able to ask for and get decent answers to recommended planting dates.
- What is the establishment period or what have they seen as a range?
- What is the vegetative growth stage period that they are seeing?
- And of course, when is recommended harvest for the specific genetics you are shopping them for.
- A big one that I missed in my naivety, was many sellers will claim a good fem, germ and cannabinoid % BUT when you get right down to it, it is based off a nutrient partitioning and growing regiment specific to their operation. Meaning, those outcomes are only somewhat guaranteed IF you follow exactly their protocol. Ask the many farmers how that worked for them not understanding that when they purchased what they thought were amazing genetics and come to find out they had no leg to stand on when it came to repairing what they thought was ill intentions towards them.
- For me, I want to make sure those I am doing business with truly have a vested interest in my operation and seeing my success, so I do my best to understand the person I am working with and straight up asking them how our relationship will be once the seed is bought, sold and delivered to me. Dependent upon their reaction to this tells me a lot about my decision to go with them or not.
- Last, but not least, if you have heard ANYTHING about their CEO or their company being in any legal trouble, throw that out there! Sarcasm? Yes, but during a conference call with a potential seller, a name came up, which I Googled while listening to their “pitch” and sure enough, this person was shrouded in shady dealings and others not saying the best things about him.
Point 2: Create Rapport and a Relationship
This industry creates such a unique opportunity for everyone, at just about every level and it’s an aspect that continually reminds me why I love hemp and the industry in general. That is, we can actually get back to building awesome business relationships from the ground up with awesome and good people! Do not get me wrong, I am a firm believer this is true for any business or industry, it just seems to be so prevalent within this space, but you need to find “your people”. Finding your people. I could go off on a tangent about find your people for EVERY aspect of your business, surround yourself with the best and brightest and utilize all the resources you can! But I digress and will stick to my journey of seed acquisition. When I say build rapport and a relationship, I mean build rapport and a relationship with the specific individual who is going to be placing your order and then with you during the periods of down payment, shipping, and final payment. Hopefully this person or organization will also be the same person checking in with you and engaging with you how your germination is going, your feminization, transplant and all the way through to your final state results and then onto you having sold or processing your own biomass or floral. This relationship should satisfy the basic business rule of commerce for both the buyer and seller, but it also creates an opportunity for both to gain much more. The buyer will be given a semblance of peace, knowing that they have a good working relationship with the company. The seller also benefits if they are of good ethics, in that the feedback they will be getting from the buyer should help supply analytics and solid information on a multitude of different parameters that the seller can then use to even improve their genetics, processes and business dealings. We need to understand that on both ends of this industry, those who come to play with solid ethics, a passion to educate, learn and help out those coming behind them can help contribute to building a positive and sound industry.
Point 3: You Have the COA’s, Now USE Them!
This part is not long, but it needs its own section because it is essential. I heckled with a few companies and individuals to get COA’s, others it was posted right on their websites or the seller was transparent right up front. Once I had received COA’s I was happy with, being within the last 180 days, what I am reading and seeing on them seems to be exactly what I am looking for, with the exception maybe of that Delta-9 being a factor. Many of you will read this next part and shrug it off as a “no brainer”, but at what point did it become a no-brainer for you? The name of the lab is on the COA, the person who signed off on it is listed, the sample number is on the COA. See where I am getting at? I needed to make sure I called the Lab and followed up. I implore you to do the same. Even if it came from that individual that you get along with so well, or you had been referred to the company by a good close friend. When it comes down to it, this is business and I wanted to make sure I insured myself as much as possible in an unsure industry. There was an exorbitant amount of people that were taken for a “ride” this year, that obtained COA’s that were fixed, adulterated or just down right trash. People and operations literally bet the farm on these COA’s without due diligence and it’s heartbreaking. Farmers are extremely good at what they do, but thinking a bit more with a business mindset can help exponentially. The talks and conversations I have had with farm specific operations pertaining to hardships, were they relied too heavily on established work ethic rules and how things had always been done. Being introduced to how business was done in these early years played on and manipulated many farmers and individual’s capacity to simply believe that people are genuine and good at heart. Sadly, this is not always the case.
Point 4: Don’t Forget About Geographical Data
What seems like a century ago, I remember when I obtained COA’s that had great fem, germ and % rates. The Delta-9 was where it needed to be and the price was on point per seed. I cross referenced the lab, made the right calls, read testimonials and had a pretty good relationship with the seller. Ultimately, a home-run in my opinion, until I started going to the discussions, round tables, speaking with operations from state-to-state. What I learned was geographical differences in region to region, even within certain states plays a HUGE role in the performance of genetics. There are going to be people reading this that say “of course”, but again, at just about every event that I have been to, both in Michigan and out of state, the same statements kept coming up. The gist of which boiled down to farmers in region A, B, and C were basing their outcomes of their genetics on varietals being grown in regions D,E and F. Being so new, you can find preliminary data relating to strains being grown in different regions, but good and reliable data is hard to come by. If you know where to look for what IS available out there, then you are equipping yourself the best you can and that’s what I am doing. A source I capitalized on, was the State of Michigan released all of their tests of each strain and the % of both CBD and its “hot” testing. It was interesting to compare this to Oregon, Kentucky and other states. It was becoming clear to me that the best direction for me to adhere to was finding genetics that are specific to my region. When you think of it, what makes me believe that one genetic is going to grow the same at 8,000 feet in elevation, a radically different soil make up of sandy silt, different temperate climate as opposed to 800 feet elevation, sandy loam and a region that we don’t know from one day to the next if we are in Spring, Fall or Summer? (remember, I am in Michigan). This is where recalling on biology from my sophomore year in high school comes in to play, or doesn’t. What I am getting at is, region specific genetics are here and will continue to grow in their availability and credibility. This circles back to a problem then that we encounter again, which is it will be extremely hard to vet many of these “new” genetics, as many first-round available seeds are just now coming to market. This is exceptionally true for CBG. This is where it is going to be of the utmost importance to do your research, build those connections and reach out and have conversations with people claiming to have region specific varietals. My favorite thing to do in any capacity, is when I get an excuse to travel to places and meet face-to-face with someone, I do it in a heartbeat. This in general has been a blessing that I have been able to do and if you’re not comfortable doing so, build up that courage and do it. Some of the best relationships I never knew existed, started this way. Not to throw a wrench into things, but there is this dichotomy that exists and most established and bigger players in the “seed selling market” do have information regarding different varietals and their outcomes from different geographic regions. I simply needed to delve in and ask for it.
Point 5: Reach Out to Local Ag Departments and the State
As more and more states are moving from pilot programs and or simply are allowing for the growth of hemp in their states, data is being collected by different agencies. Here in Michigan, through MDARD (the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development), they are compiling analytics through actual universities, organizations, licensees and processors that speak to different varietals and their outcomes. I spoke to this earlier. As part of the Ag Pilot program this year, I was on a mailing list that kept growers’ names and information confidential, but revealed the strains grown, how much was grown and the testing outcomes of these. There was a pretty fair and consistent outcome from many of the varieties that could be utilized and analyzed to make decisions about strain genetics. This is one of many tools that I continue to utilize. Also, the FSA (Farm Service Agency) and USDA are good sources of information to inquire with. You should be able to get a read from them on banned genetics or genetics in question. As each State is adopting and the USDA is solidifying its rules, there will be a learning curve for these agencies. The rate at which they learn and disseminate information will vary greatly. I have been following up with my contacts at least once a month and I am overly impressed at how quickly they are coming along and the updated information and guidance they are able to provide.
I have managed to ramble on a bit and at this point have spoke to a big part of this stage of buying our seeds. I will continue to keep myself accountable by hopefully writing articles and maybe you guys will engage. I want to know what others are doing and if their process looks similar. What extra steps are industry leaders, individuals and start-ups taking? We literally have everything to learn at this point and look forward to the growth of the industry and the opportunities and relationships that are presented on a daily basis!