Op-Ed – Wayne Richman, California Hemp Association

A Colorado-based hemp seed company focused on genomics, seed breeding, and agribusiness, together with several other stakeholders has created an initiative called “Value the Seed” that promotes certified seed as a way to unburden farmers and assure regulators of compliance.

A farmer-centric initiative from the National Hemp Association (NHA), Agricultural Hemp Solutions, and IND HEMP, which is supported by The Standing Committee of Hemp Organizations (SCOHO) has a different approach based on farmer experience and feedback.

The Grain and Fiber Hemp Exemption eliminates background checks and compliance testing when hemp is grown exclusively for grain and/or fiber. Hemp is not to be feared, this initiative is meant to unburden farmers and regulators while not removing any information from law enforcement.

What is the outcome (use) for this crop? Will it be sold for grain, fiber, hurd, or oils? Farmers know that means profit or loss based on market conditions for any commodity crop such as corn, soy, wheat, alfalfa, etc.

So, certified seed seems to solve the problem, or does it?

Certified seed is not a panacea or a reliable solution. Seed grows differently in different latitudes, with differing soil types, climates, and elevations, for example. Seed needs to be grown locally to be of use and value to farmers of differing regions. I learned this at the UC Davis Hemp Seed Breeding and Production Course, of which I’m a proud graduate. I’m also a voting member of the California Crop Improvement Association (CCIA). The Official Seed Certification Agency for the State of California.

An example of a massive, certified seed failure is Schiave Seed from Italy. Touted by many hemp experts as the go-to breeder from Europe, they set up offices in Kentucky to start a certified hemp seed breeding and production operation.

There are many similar stories across the US regarding so-called Certified Seed. AOSCA, OCED (International Seed Certification Boards) or any state Hemp programs certified seed varieties still need to be localized to prove the claims and acclimate the seed type to optimize growth and qualities. Reliable seed sources are required for this growing hemp industry. Does certified seed solve that issue? No, it actually restricts available seed types and quantities. Hemp seed breeding programs conducted by farmers and universities are more useful, because localized seed can be created and optimized for the best results.

Further, certified seeds only offer a hope and not a guarantee. As a Farmer once said: “If your seed is as good as you claim, I’ll make a profit and I’ll be a lifelong customer. Can you guarantee that?”

After two-plus years of fanfare, their seed when planted in many places in the US, including central California (which has a similar Mediterranean-type climate as Italy),. was a dismal failure. This occurred even though their local marketing partner was Western Milling, a prominent and well-respected vendor of many products and services to the farming industry including sales of certified crop seeds of many types. Western Milling failed with Schiave Seed, the farmers were disappointed after the first plantings and seed sales plummeted to zero.

Which proposal is best for Farmers? An open model where farmers and universities are the researchers determining what works best in their climate zone and soil type, or the Monsanto model? The hemp industry is too young to create monopolies. Locked-up markets and limited availability makes money only for the certified seed producers, with no guarantee of outcomes for the farmer.

I’m not against certified seed, it does provide some guarantees in terms of the purity of the genetics, germination rates, and cleanliness of the seed. However, certified seed should be able to compete in an open market and be sought after because farmers believe it is superior and provides the best yields and has the best performance, not because it is the only way to gain an exemption from overly burdensome regulations.

Wayne Richman
President of the California Hemp Association/Foundation
Member of California Crop Improvement Association (CCIA). The Official Seed Certification Agency for the State of California.
UC Davis Hemp Seed Breeding and Production Course Graduate
SCOHO Communications Sub-Committee Chair
USHBA Region 2 Leader
Founder of Excellent Brands, LLC. And Hempello, LLC.