The European Commission has officially approved the first ‘autoflowering’ hemp seeds, in what the creators say could be a ‘game changer’ for farmers in colder climates.
Bulgarian-based CBD Seed Europe has succeeded in registering the first autoflower hemp CBD seed varieties in the European Common Catalogue.
These seeds, according to the company, will not only lower the bar for farmers hoping to break into the market, but will also enable those in colder Northern European climates such as the UK to potentially significantly reduce the cost implications of growing hemp and CBD crops.
Americo Folcarelli, Founder of CBD Seed Europe, stated: “This really is a game changer in the CBD industry and I am so proud of the hard work of our breeders and our genetics research team in accomplishing what everyone thought was impossible under the EU strict requirements.”
What are autoflower seeds?
Cannabis Sativa plants are traditionally ‘photo-periodic’ species, meaning they rely on changes in the duration of light and darkness to trigger flowering.
In nature, this will mean plants flower towards the end of summer, as the days get shorter. For cultivators, particularly in colder climates with less sunlight, one of the major and most cost-intensive hurdles is controlling the lighting environment.
However, as the name suggests, autoflowering species are able to transition from the vegetative to flowering stage based on age and overall growth without being dependent on changes in light cycles.
This usually takes place between two and four weeks after germination, and in the case of CBD Seed Europe’s product, will have a reported total growth period of 75 days.
While these seeds have been readily available in North America for some time, the more stringent quality control procedure in the European Union has meant that these seeds have taken longer to be approved.
Mr Folcarelli explained to Business of Cannabis: “One of the major stumbling blocks in getting any genetic approved on the EU catalogue is that it needs to be very, very stable. That means you can’t have a whole bunch of phenotypes.
“Generally speaking, autoflower strains come with those types of issues, and have around five or six different phenotypes. We were able to get it down to the point where we do technically have three phenotypes, but you can’t distinguish them one from the other.”
In Europe, any seed, whether it’s hemp or tomatoes, must go through a two-year registration process in order to be included in the Common Catalogue, with producers receiving regular audits to ensure seeds continue to meet the standard.
Pros and cons of autoflower
These strains offer a number of benefits for farmers. Being less dependent on light means that crops are able to be grown during winter months.
This also means they are far more suited to outdoor growing operations, where there is no precise control of light conditions.
For those growing indoors, the reduction in the amount of light needed can significantly reduce expenses and growers’ carbon footprint.
Furthermore, the short life cycle enables farmers to cultivate multiple crops in a single growing season, while the compact size and quick flowering make the plants suitable for planting more densely, enabling around twice as many plants to be grown.
These factors combined also make autoflowering strains a much more attractive proposition for farmers new to growing hemp.
Of course, there are also drawbacks compared with traditional strains. As described above, the genetics of autoflowering strains can be less stable, resulting in more variations between individual plants with a large number of phenotypes.
While the automatic nature of the flowering process has its benefits, it also means there is less scope for control, limiting the ability to manipulate plant size or recover from issues such as topping or pruning.
Although plants can be grown far more densely, autoflowering plants tend to produce smaller yields, and will often have lower CBD levels compared with traditional photoperiod strains.