Each month, we invite master growers from Licensed Producers to share their stories with us. This time, we spoke with Chad Morphy, master grower at GreenSeal in Stratford, Ont.
Chad Morphy has always been fascinated by cannabis genetics. When he co-founded GreenSeal in 2014, he brought with him a library of 400 diverse breeds — from some of the world’s most popular strains to lesser-known cultivars, including heirloom strains and breeds with unique terpene profiles — collected from breeders around the world and from his own growing experience.
He built his impressive collection while licensed under Canada’s Marihuana for Medical Purposes (MMPR) legislation; he was cultivating cannabis on behalf of a number of medical cannabis consumers and creating personalized combinations of cannabinoids and terpenes.
“The wider the variety of genetics at your disposal, the better positioned you will be to meet evolving future demands,” Morphy says.
That dedication to variety is key to GreenSeal’s unique value proposition. In addition to the existing library, Morphy and his team are always busy phenotyping and breeding new cultivars in the company’s nursery. For Morphy, it’s a numbers game:
“Let’s say I have 10 strains and I want to cross two of them,” he says. “The maximum possible combinations that could be created is 45. If I have 400 strains and want to cross two, the possible combinations are closer to 80,000.”
The end goal? Create and produce the next “unicorn strain,” one that “ticks all the boxes” — potency, terpenes, disease resistance, yield, trichome production and ability to thrive in GreenSeal’s unique six- and eight-level vertical cultivation system.
Morphy’s process begins with market research. In Ontario alone, GreenSeal has hosted more than 100 pop-up events at Authorized Cannabis Stores — many of which Morphy has attended in person — to connect with budtenders and consumers and discover what types of cultivars they’re looking for.
One of GreenSeal’s most recent market offerings was born from that approach.
“We had customers in Ontario telling us there was a need for a high-THC sativa [in a] large-format option, so we introduced our Citrus Skunk 14 g,” Morphy says. The product is a potent limonene- and myrcene-rich cross between Las Vegas Lemon Skunk, Grapefruit and Grape Ape. “In this case, it wasn’t just a demand for a unique genetic — it was also a unique genetic in a specific format.”
“The wider the variety of genetics at your disposal, the better positioned you will be to meet evolving future demands.”
But zeroing in on the next great cultivar isn’t as simple as gathering consumer feedback. There’s the time and labour of the pheno-hunt. For cultivars like Gorilla Berry — an indica-dominant cross between Gorilla Glue, Blueberry and OG Kush that’s one of GreenSeal’s most popular products to date — the pheno-hunting process can take up to 18 months.
Morphy’s team starts by growing as many as 200 seeds at a time and choosing the most desirable results (for instance, the 10% with the highest cannabinoid content). Then, Morphy will grow those 10% again — producing, evaluating and refining until he gets the consistent results he’s looking for. “Again and again,” Morphy explains. “As long as it takes. Then, armed with the THC we are looking for, we do the final selection based on the plant characteristics, [such as] terpenes, pest and disease resistance, vigour, time to harvest and yield.”
Because of how long it takes to stabilize a phenotype before bringing it to market, Morphy and his team work with about two dozen cultivars concurrently, all at different stages of the process.
Though THC potency is a major consideration when both breeding and selecting genetics, Morphy and the GreenSeal team are also looking at other traits, like terpenes (the fragrant plant oils that produce a unique taste and smell). The richer the terpene content, the more flavourful and aromatic the bud is likely to be. Morphy looks at monoterpenes, the fragrant and flavourful chemical compounds in cannabis flower, and sesquiterpenes, which are less fragrant but burn at a higher temperature (helping preserve flavour or aroma during the burn time), according to Morphy.
When choosing a cultivar to feature in an upcoming pre-roll, for instance, Morphy picked Mocha OG, a sativa-dominant San Fernando Valley OG cross which is unique for its high sesquiterpene content. “It maintains those terpenes much better throughout the entire experience,” Morphy says. “We wanted a pre-roll that, from being lit to the last toke, was exactly the same flavour or maintained a very similar flavour throughout.”
Sesquiterpenes may sound like industry jargon, but as consumers become even savvier about cannabis attributes, Morphy believes the market will shift to focus on more traits than just THC potency.
“Today the market is gravitating towards high THC, but if you think about it, there are very few products we purchase as consumers based on a metric like this,” he says. “For instance, most people won’t buy beer A over beer B because it is 5% [alcohol content] versus 4%. Their decision is usually based around some combination of items like experience, flavour, branding, price, ethics, etc.”
“We don’t want to copy the strains of today. We want to create the strains of tomorrow.”
While Morphy’s hyper-focus on unique genetics sets GreenSeal apart, so does its approach to cultivation. GreenSeal’s Stratford, Ont., facility has an airlocked breeding chamber where Morphy and his team can safely work with male pollen and not disrupt other processes happening on site. They also maintain a quarantine area so any bugs or pathogens in new genetics can be dealt with safely before the plants are put into general production.
Then there’s the innovative eight- and six-level vertical grow system, designed to maximize yield under a 20-foot ceiling in multiple grow rooms within the company’s licensed square footage. The company harvests regularly in small batches. To date, GreenSeal has produced between 300 and 400 individual harvests.
“On an annual basis, we do somewhere between 80 and 90 harvests at our facility. In an outdoor grow, you do one. In a greenhouse, you might do three or four,” Morphy says. “One year at GreenSeal has an equivalent number of harvests as perhaps 20 to 25 years in a greenhouse. We have had 20 to 25 times more opportunities to test new ideas, refine processes, train our staff and stabilize our operations.”
While GreenSeal is laser-focused on finding and growing the most unique bud, it’s not looking to become a seed bank. While the company could licence its unique genetics out to other cultivators, it’s made a calculated decision not to.
“We don’t want to copy the strains of today. We want to create the strains of tomorrow,” Morphy says. “This is the reason we don’t want to share.”