The big hype in the hemp industry is “feminized seed,” but an increasing number of hemp farmers are finding out that securing exclusively feminized seed can be much more difficult than anticipated.

Farmers and cultivators depend on female plants and will pay top dollar for the feminized seeds that will produce them because it is the female that will yield cannabidiol (CBD)-rich hemp plants. Despite the promises being made to achieve these genetics through feminized seeds, it appears to be far from the truth sprouting out. In recent cases, many seed sellers, brokers and others (sometimes falsely) advertise the sale of “feminized seed.” Only once planted, and several weeks or months later, the farmer may find out the seeds are not exclusively feminized and are producing male plants in high numbers ruining the well-laid plans of those same hemp farmers across the United States.

Because the female plants produce significantly higher quantities of cannabinoids than males, unfortunately, it only takes one male plant growing in a crop to potentially pollinate the female plants. Among other concerns, many farmers harvesting CBD-rich crops remain concerned that pollinated female plants will begin diverting their energy away from the production of cannabinoids in favor of producing seeds, devastating an entire crop. The removal of male plants also causes a great deal of extra labor and lost production.

To add insult to injury, given the popularity and profit potential, feminized seed is far more expensive. In fact, it is commonly sold for double or more, significantly increasing the farming cost per acre. The added cost is worth it for many farmers to ensure planting of exclusively feminized seed, given their increased profit expectations, and without assurances of being a feminized seed, there is a 50/50 chance of any given seed sprouting a female plant. Notwithstanding the expense, there remains a high demand for feminized seed around the country.

This demand and perceived importance of feminized seed has created an opportunity for seed suppliers to exaggerate and, sometimes, make fraudulent claims. Thinking that they are making a critical business investment and purchasing from these suppliers, it may not be until the plants enter their pre-flowering stage — up to six weeks after planting — that unwitting farmers realize they did not get what they paid for.

Deceptive trade practices, including fraud and misrepresentations, like these do not need to be ignored. Farmers who find themselves in similar situations may have legal remedies available to them. As an example, an Oregon plaintiff in a 2018 lawsuit claimed to have paid up to a dollar per feminized seed. When it turned out that his crop was not female-only and CBD-rich as promised, causing him millions of dollars in damages, he brought suit. In September 2019, a Kentucky-based company raised similar claims, alleging $44 million in damages, against another Oregon seed supplier concerning seed which turned out to be male, instead of feminized seed as represented by the supplier.

Farmers who find themselves on the wrong end of a misleading “feminized seed” sale should consult with legal professionals concerning potential recourse and legal claims against the suppliers of the seed.

Nicole Chapman is a paralegal at Hoban Law Group (hoban.law) in Denver, Colorado. Ms.
Chapman specializes in corporate law, and civil and commercial litigation. This article has
been prepared for informational and general guidance purposes only; it does not constitute legal
or professional advice. You should not act upon the information contained herein without
obtaining specific professional advice. No representation or warranty (express or implied) is
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