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Dustan McLean, Nine Lions:

“Getting stable and clean cannabis genetics is still a challenge”

“While tissue culture is already a quite common practice for European cannabis growers, it is only just becoming more popular in Canada. Many growers know about the value of tissue culture, but there is still a misconception about how much it can cost,” says Dustan McLean, Master Grower at Nine Lions, a genetics and tissue culture company based in Alberta, Canada. The company received its license at the end of last year and is now getting its tissue culture ready for growers. “The goal is to provide clean genetics to licensed producers: genetics that are free of viroids, fungi, bugs, etc. Unfortunately, getting good, stable, and clean genetics is still a challenge in the industry.”

On the left: Dustan McLean

A trusted source
“When it comes to cannabis genetics, you’ve got to know your source. Some growers spend thousands of dollars on genetics just for it to be disappointing. There is a lot of genetics out there that is unstable or has Hop Latent Viroid (HLVd) in it, for example, so you have to be careful,” Dustan says. He explains that HLVd has been a major issue for the cannabis industry. “Some are even unaware they have it in their clones when their cuttings are taken from an infected mother plant. I’ve even met some growers who do not believe HLVd is a thing, thinking that it is a way to sell them products to treat it. But as most know, it is a very real concern for many growers, and getting clean genetics from a trusted source is the first step in preventing the viroid. Tissue culture is a great solution as it removes pathogens from contaminated strains and ensures disease-free plants.”

An emerging solution
According to Dustan, Canadian cannabis growers are slowly but surely getting more interested in tissue culture. “It is still new here, so education is necessary to show people what good, clean genetics can do. Everybody is so used to cuttings and seeds that it takes some time to convince cannabis growers to try something new. Moreover, while many people know that tissue culture is valuable, there’s also a misconception about how much it can cost. Some people seem to think that it is incredibly expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. At Nine Lions, we’re working hard to make it as palatable as possible for all parties involved,” Dustan says.

In addition to ensuring disease-free plants, tissue culture also affects the cannabinoid levels, Dustan says. “In testing, we found that the changes in THC levels were cultivar dependent: some decreased and some increased. Interestingly, we did see a definite increase in the terpene percentage across the board. This is, of course, a great benefit of using tissue culture. Still, I think having a clean genetic that you don’t have to worry about is what is going to be the main selling point for growers.”

A challenging market
According to Dustan, the Canadian cannabis industry is currently a challenging market to navigate. “It’s tough to get your products to market when each province’s rules are slightly different. Moreover, taxation is incredibly hard on businesses. Until some things are changed, a lot of places will continue to either close or struggle really hard. Right now, if you’re just breaking even, you’re doing really well.” Yet Dustan believes that there is hope for improvement. “We shouldn’t forget that we’re still a brand new industry of just 5 years old. Hopefully, in another 5 years, lots of improvements will have been made.”

But for now, Dustan says that genetics are more important than ever to succeed in a challenging market situation. “Your production needs to be high quality and consistent, and you cannot afford to take any risks. Therefore, having strong and resistant genetics is key. For example, for growers who are struggling with drought, we have genetics that can go over 25 days without water and still bounce back. On top of such aspects, you need to keep in mind what the customer is going to like. That can be a challenge when things are changing quickly in the marketplace. The products that consumers loved two years ago are starting to come back, while the products that people love now can lose their popularity soon. Therefore, planning your genetic calendar is really important. Overall, it’s a good idea to look at what is in demand in California, as that is where trends are often set.”

Dustan has noticed that consumers are slowly becoming more educated about cannabis. “You will always have the value shoppers, people who want the highest THC level for the lowest price. But more and more people are asking about the terpene profile and flavor, etc. This indicates that the industry will hopefully become less of a numbers game and that genetics are becoming more important. The more educated the consumer becomes, the more our industry can help them to have a great experience, which will help to keep the industry going.”

For more information:
Nine Lions