What is feminized hemp seed (and why bad seed can wreck your field)

The question “what is feminized hemp seed?” is a common. Another common conversation we have with growers goes something like this.

“I bought feminized hemp seed, but I had over 30% males!” – Numerous hemp growers. 

This is a common complaint we hear from hemp growers in the industry. The seed industry is rife with bad seed and seed producers making claims that are simply untrue. The truth is, if you see 30% male (hermaphrodite) traits in your hemp field, the seed is not actually feminized and was bred using sloppy techniques. 

Hermaphrodite hemp plant next to female

Hermaphrodite hemp plant next to female counterpart

But first, what are hermaphrodites (male hemp plants) and how do they come from feminized seed? 

The science of feminized seeds

Feminized hemp seed is created by turning a female plant into a pollen producing plant. Now, because this plant is female, it should (theoretically) produce only female pollen (not male pollen). Hermaphrodites occur when the plant is still truly female (in terms of genetics) but exhibits male sex organs, such as pollen sacs.

Male (hermaphrodite) Hemp Plants

Having a highly feminized hemp seed is important because pollen from a hermaphrodite can completely wreck your hemp field in the following ways:

  • Seeded hemp flower
  • Decreased cannabinoid potency 
  • Overall poor flower development 

All of these outcomes ultimately result in lower profits from your hemp field. With increased consumer quality demands for CBD products, seeded hemp flower is almost impossible to sell to the boutique flower market. Decreased cannabinoid potency and overall flower development will also decrease your extraction efficiencies. In addtion, it will also be more difficult to sell your product at top dollar.

How to source quality feminized seed

So how do you spot red flags from seed providers and ensure they are supplying quality, feminized seed? A feminization report, unfortunately, doesn’t tell you much because the sample size is usually quite small, which isn’t much use to large scale hemp growers. To begin vetting seed sources, ask the seed supplier how the seed was produced and what time of year it was bred. Seed bred outside and in the summer often leads to pollen contamination that can wreak havoc on feminization rates. 

Seed suppliers claiming they have 70% or 80% feminization is something you should also stay away from. While the hemp seed may be cheaper than other feminized seed, you will pay for it in the long run when your hemp field is riddled with pollen that ruins your entire hemp harvest

True, quality feminized seed will have a feminization rate of 99% or higher. Excellent feminized seed will be at about 99.98% feminization, which comes to about 1:4000 hermaphrodites to females (less than one hermaphrodite per acre). 

While the science and technique behind feminized hemp seed is getting much better, the only way to ensure you will have a 100% true female plant is to grow from hemp clones. Hemp clones are produced from female mother plants (stock plants) and have a significantly lower chance to become a hermaphrodite. 

Growing female plants is critical to your success as a hemp grower. If you haven’t had a chance yet, check out our hemp seed and hemp clone varieties. And, if you aren’t sure which variety is right for you, take the Variety Quiz now!