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It’s yet unclear whether cannabis and hemp growing will become ubiquitous in Thailand, but knowing cultivation basics in advance might come in handy to many farmers.
Thailand has been liberalizing cannabis laws for some time now. Last December, the country’s narcotics board decriminalized the production, possession, and sale of such parts of the plant as leaves, roots, and branches. And a decision made earlier this year extended these rules to cannabis seeds and flowers.
The government has long announced its plans to buy the produce from community enterprises. The nascent sector could generate up to Bt8 billion for the country’s pharmaceutical industry. And these estimates had been made even before domestic cultivation by individual farmers was allowed.
So how should individual farmers proceed when they want to grow hemp or cannabis at home? And what can they expect from this crop?
An endemic species in Thailand
The hemp plant should be considered an endemic species in Thailand. It means that some landrace varieties are perfectly adapted to the local climate and don’t need special tending to reach their full genetic potential. In fact, they can grow wild and still bring in a commercially viable harvest.
Landrace varieties have an open bush structure, long internodes, and wispy flower clusters which increases plants’ mold resistance in the hot and humid environment. They also tend to delay the onset of flowering despite the equal duration of days and nights throughout most of the year. This allows endemics to reach a considerable height.
Thai cannabis is classified as Sativa. Sometimes, the commercial name ‘Haze’ is used.
In the rest of the world, the most successful commercial varieties of cannabis are hybrids that were bred by crossing Sativa and Indica strains. The Indica heritage imbues the hybrids with larger, bulkier, and denser flowers which dramatically improves yields.
Modern breeding was also successful in increasing the content of THC, CBD, and other cannabis-specific chemicals in flowers. It also led to the increased production of terpenes, volatile aromatic substances that can be used in cosmetics, skincare, and similar applications.
However, growing Indica/Sativa hybrids in Thailand may present certain difficulties. Indica-dominant cultivars may take an equal duration of days and nights as a signal to start flowering too soon in the grow cycle. This could prevent them from growing big enough to be of any commercial value.
On the other hand, farmers may opt for having several consecutive harvests of smaller plants each year. Or they may use auxiliary lighting to extend the duration of days and thus trick cannabis into longer vegetative growth and delay the start of budding.
Finally, the third option is to use the so-called autoflowering strains. They finish in about 2–3 months from seed regardless of the light schedule. Despite faster maturation and smaller size, the yields of modern autoflowers are comparable to their photoperiod counterparts.
Another issue with more high-yielding hybrids is their greater susceptibility to mold and bud rot in humid climates. The only way to counteract this is to use greenhouses with dehumidifiers able to bring down the relative humidity to 35–45 percent during the most vulnerable late-flowering stage.
Other than that, hemp and cannabis are easy-to-grow crops that only need watering and can bring in substantial yields when grown organically in terms of both feeding and pest control. The use of extra nutrients formulated to meet the specific requirements of cannabis isn’t strictly necessary but can significantly improve yields. Nitrogen-rich plant food is used during the vegetative stage, and raised levels of phosphorus and potassium are required in flowering.
To resume, farmers may successfully implement low-tech organic cultivation methods but be limited to a few endemic varieties of the cannabis plant. They may experiment with more Indica-leaning cash-crop strains, but the larger the percentage of Indica, the more difficult it will be to adapt the cross to the local climate conditions. Many modern commercial strains will call for more sophisticated greenhouse solutions that combine the use of natural sunlight with the ability to control humidity as well as temperature and, possibly, the light cycle.