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Different Breeding Approaches For Different End Games 

The differences between regular and feminized seed-making— and why both can have a permanent home in your toolbox
By Colin Gordon & Ben Owens

Often, it is not a question of whether using a male or two females is a “better” method, it is a question of what tools you have in your toolbox and what you are trying to accomplish. Regular (male-female) and feminized (female-female) seed-making are both important tools for breeders in cannabis and agriculture at large. 

The Advantages of Feminized Seed-Making The single biggest benefit to breeding with females is the number of data points you have when selecting both parents. 

Unlike a male, a female plant can be flowered and evaluated for a variety of desirable traits. Expressions such as bud structure, cannabinoid profile, and sexual stability can all be observed and contribute to selections. With a male, you are limited in the number of data points that can be used in selection. 

Feminized seeds offer additional benefits to the grower, including: 

LESS GUESSWORK: You do not have to wait until a plant begins to flower to identify if it is a male or female. 

LESS WORKFLOW: Because there is a 99%+ chance each seed planted will be female, you do not have to over-plant (and care for) crops to account for males that will have to be culled. 

LESS TIME AND MONEY: By avoiding culling, all inputs are going towards plants that will yield a harvest, minimizing financial and material waste involved in culling plants. 

Regular Breeding still has a place in the toolbox. 

ETHOS uses both reversals and males in its breeding projects, and offers a catalog produced using both methods. 

While males may offer fewer data points than females, there are plenty of scenarios where we will use a male in a breeding project, including: 

If a line has reached IBL status, its offspring have been stabilized, and (especially once you’re familiar with a particular line) you can confidently use males as needed without questioning what expressions the offspring will present. 

If you’ve only got a male of a particular variety, you use the tools in your stable. Sometimes, you have to work with what you’ve got. 

If you’ve worked with a particular male before, and you know how it breeds because you’ve had the opportunity to see its offspring. 

If you’re going for the easiest route, males are a low-difficulty option for pollination compared to reversing a female plant. 

If you’re outcrossing, you can use a group of males to pollinate a field of females for genetic preservation. 

We can use males to create new hybrids or move a line forward, directionally working a line towards a specific endgame such as a backcross or IBL. 

For example, our Super Lemon Haze is an IBL that was created using a mixture of Fem and M/F breeding. I used a male that I have known and worked with on multiple lines because I knew how its expressions breed. 

If we are making an F1, I’m picking three males of the same phenotype to pollinate my female plants. 

I pick three plants that all have the similar growth characteristics to eliminate that variation and also out of a lack of data; this is done to widen the net to capture desired breeding traits. With an F1, you’re typically not familiar enough to narrow it down to one plant for pollination and one for seed-making. 

By the time we begin making an F2, we’ve gotten a sense of what the F1 offspring look like, and how parental expressions breed. 

After you’ve had a chance to see the line of F1 plants and which traits carried forward, you can begin to narrow down your choices, but I am still using at least two males (if not three) with similar expressions. 

As you progress to F3 and F4 lines, you become much more familiar with what expressions you are working to stabilize. 

At this point, phenotypical variation continues to decrease. Depending on how well we learn the line and how much variation exists, we may select a single male, but this is not done until variation is nominal and has been narrowed to a single phenotype. At this point, by using a single male, we can begin to homogenize with more precision. 

When breeding with males, especially earlier filial generations, the ideal selections are the most “typical”. 

If you think of a bell curve, you are looking for males that make up that middle portion. Outliers will present increased variation (and further outliers) in offspring, making homogenization more difficult. 

Most people that we talk to about fem seeds just simply aren't sure of how they’re made and what it means for a seed to be “feminized.” 

Often, they have run both reg’s and fem’s, and they like both, but most don’t have enough personal experience with running enough seeds to have a thorough understanding of why both processes exist and both types of seeds remain on the market. 

The people that I know that run a ton of seeds are not biased one way or the other; they will use both depending on what they are looking for. 

It’s not just philosophically, “What are the benefits of using males or females?” It’s a matter of what you have in your stable; what's worth running and what's worth working with.

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