Recently, scientists revealed that more than half of the wild varieties of coffee are critical to endangered and are nearing extinction by the end of the century. This is due to environmental factors and climate change. The coffee breeders’ can improve their maintenance procedures and practices to try and slow down this process. With this phenomenon, the price of coffee will surely go up to offset the demand.
And if such bad news can happen to coffee, this too can happen to any plant that is facing the same predicament as the coffee.
Luckily, marijuana growers continue to discover new strains that provide high levels of THC and indulging aromas and flavors. Breeding new strains is a serious matter since you also spend your resources and time just to maintain the ideal strain of marijuana. More than that, to preserve the genetic resources of the strain, breeders and growers have to maintain a seed bank, which is another expense to shoulder.
What is a Seed Bank?
A seed bank is a gene bank that is used to preserve seeds for future use. Sunwest Genetics is one of the top seed banks in the US that preserves cannabis seeds. The seeds are placed in a container in low temperature and low humidity conditions. The reason why storing seeds is important is that:
Breeders have to preserve the genetic diversity of the seeds, which are capable of increasing the yield. Growers preserve seeds that are resistant to disease, can tolerate drought, are filled with nutritional benefit, and have a desirable taste and aroma, etc.
- To preserve rare strains that require special treatment to grow,
- To store seeds that were used centuries ago for further studies,
- To preserve the historical and cultural value of the seeds that were once cultivated by people but are no longer planted due to the present environmental conditions.
Seed banks also considered as seed libraries because they catalog various types of seeds that can be found in different parts of the world. Since more and more marijuana strains are being discovered each year, it is important that these are cataloged for future reference for breeders. It also helps breeders determine what strains can provide high levels of THC and other components so that they will be able to breed new strains out of them.
Why are Seed Banks Important?
Seed banks are important for the preservation of old strains with desirable traits and the generation of new strains that provide more beneficial qualities. It safeguards the seeds from:
- the loss of the genetic resources,
- the damages that natural disasters can inflict,
- the outbreak of diseases that also plague crops, and
- the destruction caused by war.
Although there are community seed banks in various parts of the country, storing seeds, which can be used for future cultivation, is essential now that climate change greatly affects our environment.
Challenges in Maintaining a Seed Bank
If you’re new to the field of cultivation, seed banks are important as the quality of your harvest depends on them. But you should know that maintaining seed banks is not as easy as it may seem because there are several factors to consider before installing a gene bank in your cultivation site or in your shop. Some considerations include:
- the types of seed to store,
- the location where the seed bank will be installed,
- the containers to be used where the seeds will be sealed for storage,
- how long the seeds will be stored.
These require serious attention because the quality of your yield and your ROI highly depend on your seed bank. Installing a seed bank and purchasing the hermetic containers might be costly upfront, but it will surely give you long term benefits once you have decided what type of seeds to add to your bank.
How does the best seed bank in the USA maintain the quality of their seeds?
Maintaining a seed bank is a big challenge because aside from your investment in developing the cultivation site, you also have to shoulder the expenses in taking care of your crop, especially if you are growing in indoor conditions. Aside from that, you have to maintain your seed bank so that crop cultivation is constant and ideal strains are preserved.
Even if you’re new to this industry, you will need a seed bank for your seeds. However, your seed bank design depends on the kind of seeds you’ll store. Seeds are classified to two distinct groups which are orthodox (includes seeds of the arable and horticultural crop) and recalcitrant (pertains to seeds of tropical plantation crops, fruits and timber species).
Orthodox seeds require a seed bank with an environment that can be controlled. The seeds in this group are stored at a lower temperature. The seeds are dried to optimum moisture content and are evaluated according to their quality and genetic purity before being sealed in moisture-proof containers. This way, the seeds will be able to survive longer.
Recalcitrant seeds are seeds that won’t survive the freezing and drying if conserved off-site. Compared to orthodox seeds, recalcitrant seeds have lower resistance to hot or cold temperatures less than 10 degrees Celsius. With the conditions of the seeds in mind, the structure of your seed banks, as well as its containers, should go with the “shelf life” of the seeds.
Since marijuana seeds are orthodox seeds that are meant for long-term storage, the seed bank should go with the building specifications for orthodox seed banks. Such specifications are:
1. Design Standards
The American Society of Heating and Refrigeration Engineers (ASHRE) presented the code and standards for seed bank designs. One of the design standards that ASHRE highly recommends is to have the cold room constructed from factory prefabricated interlocking insulated panels. These panels are usually painted galvanized steel sheeting with sealed lap joints and contain polyurethane foam that is mixed with a fire retardant.
When you construct modular cold rooms using these panels, your seed bank becomes less vulnerable to earthquake damage. It is resistant to vermin and is impervious to water vapor ingress. Best of all, these panels can be dismantled for repair, replacement or removal.
2. Electricity supply to gene banks in case of emergency
Since there’s a specific temperature to maintain to keep the seeds safe and healthy, a seed bank should have an alternating current power supply to support the machines and other amenities that control the environment inside the seed bank. To prevent electric motor failure, ASHRE suggests that the local mains voltage, the frequency, and its fluctuations should be measured prior to buying the equipment.
Another useful precaution that can be applied is installing a battery power supply that is 12 V with a main power charger within the cold room and the adjacent areas for emergency use, e.g. power supply disruptions. And to maintain the minimum gene bank services, a standby power generator is required.
3. Choosing Seed Containers
Before the seeds are stored, they are dried according to the prescribed moisture level of the seeds. Afterward, these are stored and sealed in containers that are impermeable to water. Such materials that are considered suitable are glass, metal, and laminated aluminum foils.
Most seed banks utilize hermetic containers made from glass. Glass vials are considered the safest and the cheapest because they have a low unit cost and do not require a hefty capital investment. Some use lacquered cans to minimize the risk of rust problems unless otherwise, the cans are made from aluminum.
Another convenient way to store and seal seeds is through laminated aluminum packets. It is inexpensive, does not require large storage space, can be re-cut to different sizes and can be re-used for sampling. The downside of this container, however, is that it will require you to invest in the sealing machine which requires inspections and careful adjustments to ensure that the seed packets are properly sealed.
4. Safety Precautions in Seed Banks
To minimize the cost of installation and operation without compromising the quality of seed bank in preserving the seeds, seed banks do frequent maintenance surveys and install alarm systems to protect the seed containers from natural and artificial hazards.
Workers who enter the seed banks are provided with suitable working clothes while inside the cold room. Senior staff are instructed to regularly check the direct and indirect refrigerants using a gas detection apparatus. And as much as possible, only authorized personnel are allowed to enter the cold room.
Since seed banks installations are different from regular buildings in terms of construction and temperature, an escape method is a high priority in case of emergency. The machinery used to control the temperature in cold rooms have alternative exit points, while emergency doors are installed with two routes. Best of all, the main door of the cold room has a safety latch to prevent the staff from working inside from getting locked in.
As farming methods vary year after year, the genetic makeup of crops and seeds are starting to change to adapt to the environmental conditions. As cited by Kate Whittington, an Environmental Science graduate and blogger about how saving seeds can save lives, big farms genetically modify plants to provide more food, which reduces the genetic diversity of the seeds. If this continues without saving the seeds for future cultivation, there’s a possibility that the seeds may go extinct.
That’s why seed banks are important for preserving the seeds and their genetic resources. It safeguards the seeds from natural disasters and other hazards. Yet, to construct a seed bank requires you to follow certain protocols to ensure the safety and security of our future food.
As mentioned, maintaining the quality of seeds requires a lot of effort and attention. It does not begin and end with constructing seed banks. In the world of banking seeds, there are processes to follow to ensure the purity of the seeds. Most seed banks handpick, evaluate and store seeds with promising strains for future use and distribution. That is why, to ensure the quality of the seeds, the seed banks have to be constructed and maintained properly.