Autoflowering cannabis and hemp seeds
Power and his co-founders had a background growing organic vegetables and wine grapes. When they started growing cannabis, the trio simply applied what they had learned with other crops.
"We grew it just like we grew all the vegetables," says Power. "When we started getting into cannabis and learned about autoflowers, the lightbulb went off. It's pretty obvious how much sense it makes when you have a predictable harvest and you can plant on succession and harvest on succession."
But the underground legacy of the industry meant most best practices weren't industry standards. "All of the cultivation and breeding that has been performed has had to adapt under these circumstances that agronomically don't make any sense," says Power. "We are the first people in history to be cultivating this plant on a field scale using traditional agricultural systems. I mean the royal we."
It follows that the co-founders started developing their own lines for seed even before they officially launched Atlas Seed in 2019.
"That's also not been done, because we haven't been able to operate in the light of day as an industry," says Power. "What we're going to see is rapid improvement of these lines and improvement toward agriculture, not horticulture."
That means autoflowering seeds, not clones. "For an annual crop, [cloning] is just a super limited propagation technique," says Power. "It's expensive, and it also passes on pests and disease."
"You can go into a greenhouse where they're producing clones for sale, and you can be looking at one acre of mother stock in clones," he adds. "I could hold the same number of plants in my hands if they were seeds."
Atlas Seed's differentiator is that it's targeting big outdoor grows. "It's all about economies of scale," notes Power. "We're breeding for field-scale production, which is different than what anybody is doing, because we have the opportunity to grow cannabis in the field and partner with other people who are, and take that information and craft specific breeding programs."
The Atlas Seed catalog includes six proprietary strains, a number which will increase to 10 in 2022.
A hemp operation is based in Pennsylvania; Power says it represents only a small fraction of the business. "The hemp market turned upside-down in the last two years," he explains. "That's what you get when you go, 'It's legal everywhere -- go!' and then don't let it be an additive in food. If they legalize cannabis in the same way they legalized hemp, you're going to see the exact same thing happen."
The end result? "Nobody wants to buy seed, because they're sitting on flower from last year."
Atlas Seed works with licensed partner nurseries to produce and sell its seeds. "We're working with other strategic partners from Oklahoma to Southern California who are actively taking our lines, doing the breeding work I tell them to do, and providing data and feedback as well," says Power. "We conduct marketing and brand development and do sales. When it's time to do sales in the legal system, I'm turning it over to a nursery partner who has produced the seed."
Growers in multiple states have planted them on sites ranging from a half-acre to 50 acres.
Power says grower support is "a huge part" of Atlas Seed's business, noting, "It's a new crop, and there's a lot that goes into it," he says. "When guys are doing corn and soybeans, and now they can put in cannabis, they want someone who can sell them a bunch of seeds that are going to produce a uniform crop."
The growth has been notably dynamic since the launch. Sales in 2021 had already doubled the 2020 total as of early July. "It's bonkers," says Power.
Challenges: The challenge is outdated, absurd, arbitrary, and realistically meaningless regulations, says Power. "The challenge is the government's stupid drug laws that make no sense, and their attempts to recreationalize and create a regulatory system, they're just -- to put it bluntly -- idiotic. . . . I should be able to produce seed and ship it to anyone that wants it, just like any company for any crop anywhere in the world."
"What's the concern? Why can't I do that?" he adds. "We just have to do this ridiculous, bureaucratic, regulatory kung fu on a daily basis."
Opportunities: Federal cannabis legalization would be a major boon for Atlas Seed. "It's right around the corner," says Power. "It's scary for producers because of what happened with hemp, but what we're doing is producing genetics and seeds now that are the lowest-cost production model for this agricultural commodity."
Power says that the most fertile markets are states with strong agricultural communities and light regulation. He highlights Oklahoma as a good example, and Utah and Illinois as over-regulated.
In the future, he sees "arid climates that also have other favorable conditions" in the Pacific Northwest and the Southwest as the best areas for field-scale cannabis cultivation.
In terms of strain development, mold resistance is a primary breeding goal. "We're working on mold-resistant varieties," says Power. "That's our number-one goal besides cannabinoid production."
Needs: "Competent nursery partners who can trial and produce our seed in their geographic region," says Power.