Why Breeding Cannabis Is Unlike Other Crop Breeding Efforts (Part 1)


The cannabis market today presents a huge demand for new and exciting products containing cannabis ingredients. Producers expect reliable and stable plant varieties to assure their products provide consistent quality. For that, we need to look at the very beginning of the cannabis products supply chain, the breeding research phase which develops cannabis varieties.

An agriculture breeding program starts with defining a product profile which includes several desired traits that the end product should include in order to be sold commercially and bring value to the market and income to the company. This breeding profile translates into breeding goals. Until five years ago, there were no organized, long-term cannabis breeding programs resulting from professional planning. The cannabis crop was handled by underground figures operating illegally and not by professional plant breeders or agronomists who understand plant genetics. This resulted in today’s urgent need for cannabis breeders involved with classical (Mendelian) breeding to define initial, basic goals for cannabis breeding programs. Very little knowledge exists today about the cannabis plant, its habits, fertilization needs, irrigation needs, environmental preferences or growing optimization. 

Once breeding goals are defined, the second phase is to advance generations and create pedigrees with genetic variation. Breeding goals defines what the product should include. Genetic variation is how we are going to achieve these goals. The breeder needs to prepare plant populations that have the right genes to enable development of desired varieties. For years there was very little effort given to creating genetic variation. Most cannabis varieties being used today lack genetic variation and are actually very similar genetically to one another. 

Buyers are asking for more. The potential for the plant across multiple industries is almost unquestionable. Breeding efforts done by professionals will support the improvement of germplasms used in breeding programs and will reduce costs of development and production. Only professional breeding can provide new genetics that are more consistent with quality ingredients such as yield, cannabinoid production, resistance to diseases such as powdery mildew disease, indifference to day length and control over the plant’s sex. 

Next article: Why Breeding Cannabis is Unlike Other Crop Breeding Efforts (Part 2)

Thank you to Dr. Moshe Bar, founder and managing director at Biotagate, an International consulting company specializing in ag biotech R&D and business development, for sharing his insights about breeding cannabis.

Article By Inbar Stern