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Breeder Diaries: Sjoerd of The Dutch Consulting Company

Breeder Diaries: Sjoerd of The Dutch Consulting Company

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Before I became a writer for cannabis magazines, I was an avid reader and collector. In the late ’90s and early 2000s before the endless content of the modern internet, these magazines were the primary source of information about Cannabis culture and cultivation for an enthusiast like me.

Truthfully, most of those old magazines were compiled of cheesy advertising and filler, and even many of the features were lackluster. However, every once in a while, there would be an article or story that was worth my anticipation. I can still remember some of those articles that inspired me as a grower or just influenced me to become a cooler person. I think about many things while I’m stoned. Who is the teller of those stories and why was the story told?

Today our “Cannabis Industry” was created from our previous “counterculture.” With all the media coming at you and the commonality of shameless self-promotion, it’s difficult to separate the real ones from the cheesy filler.

In this Breeder Diaries, we feature a longtime grower and breeder whom I admire and respect. Sjoerd is living history of Cannabis Culture, and is uniquely not motivated by attention and recognition, but is driven by his love and connection to the plant, and its potential to benefit the world. His story goes back to some foundations of cannabis activism and education, and genetic development that were way ahead of their time.

From the Netherlands to cultivating on multiple continents, and now as one of America’s most regarded cultivation role models, Sjoerd quietly continues his success as truly one of the best, with a style that reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, “He who knows, doesn’t speak. He who speaks, doesn’t know.” – Lao Tzu

cannabis world news interviews obviously old photo of man (subject of this article) sitting on the ground outside in front of a row of cannabis plants

Dan: I’d love to dive into your whole story, let’s start from the beginning. You had a unique upbringing. You’re originally from the Netherlands, right? What was your early life like and was there any influence from Cannabis growing up?

Sjoerd: I’m from the Netherlands, from the South. My family traveled and moved around a lot. My childhood memories are infused with the heavy scent of North Indian and Nepalese Hashish and watching the heavy milky smoke drift through the sun-dappled rooms of my childhood, I love the old hand-pressed Hashish the most, its hard to find but magical, kind of hypnotic, I tagged along with my parents traveling through India when I was young. We spent time on a boat on the lakes of Srinagar in Kashmir, tethered to a tree in the middle of the shallow lake that sunk our boat during a storm.

In Holland, there were always plots of Cannabis growing where we lived, one house had a half-acre of Cannabis growing in the back yard, so I was always kind of playing around it and in it. My parents traveled looking for hashish in exotic places around the world including Pakistan, Nepal, and India in the 70s. Back then they had mostly equatorial Sativas like Thai, Indonesian, and Laotian varieties that didn’t finish in our climate, or were crossed with early finishing Dutch genetics (Lemon and Purple types) that were bland and lacked potency. The Dutch Purple and Lemon types were mainly used as tobacco substitutes during the second World War.

Dan: When did you first start growing yourself and what kind of genetics did you have back then.

Sjoerd: I started growing pretty young in the UK, the early 90s – all bagseed plants from Thai and African Bushweed that never amounted to much. Most people that grew commercially available seed in the UK ordered from Sensi Seeds with Skunk #1, Super Skunk, and Jack Herer being popular in the early to mid-’90s.

Dan: You eventually got into commercial production and breeding/seed production with the Legendary Flying Dutchman. Can you tell us about that?

Sjoerd: Yes, in the late 90’s I worked on breeding and producing seeds for the Flying Dutchmen Seed Company, I worked under Eddie R, the creator, and owner of TFD, and also worked as the first head gardener for the Cannabis College in Amsterdam for a few years.

Dan: Very cool. I’d love to hear all about that. The Cannabis College was a really historic part of Cannabis culture in Amsterdam that was ahead of its time, can you tell us about it?

Sjoerd: The Cannabis College was founded by some serious Dutch growers and breeders, including Eddie R. in 1997-98. It was a place where people could come to learn how to grow by actually visiting live plants during Garden Tours. We grew mostly from seed from some of the seed companies active at the time – Serious Seeds, Sagamartha Seeds, TH Seeds, and of course The Flying Dutchmen Seeds, then they could go buy seeds across the street at The Flying Dutchmen. Unlike the Cannabis Museum where you would pay to visit, the college was free for everyone. While we definitely had many foreign visitors from all over the world, and aside from teaching people to grow and offering classes, another important part of the College’s mission was to offer up a place to highlight and support the work of Green Prisoners Relief. GPR worked on raising money and awareness to combat the War On Drugs, and to support those incarcerated in the most repressive states. Many people were serving multiple life sentences in some states for minor Cannabis related offenses. We also focused heavily on educating people about Industrial Hemp and its benefits and uses.

cannabis world news interviews crustal laden top of cannabis plant

Dan: Thanks for sharing all that. I know a lot of us would be very interested to hear about what Dutch genetics were like back then that you were working with. Could you talk about that and where those genetics originated?

Sjoerd: Popular Dutch genetics then were mostly Skunks, Hazes, NL’s, Afghani’s, Hawaiian, White Widows, and the resulting crosses between those. Dutch genetics really had 2 stages of origin the way I see it. In the 60s, 70s, and 80s hippie travelers collected landrace genetics and brought seeds back to their countries of origin all over the world. Although the bulk was taken back to the U.S. by US travelers, a lot of the market in Europe was based mostly on imported hash at that time, so not much demand for flower or seed in those early times in Holland. A lot of Dutch genetics were introduced by American growers in the early to mid-eighties. The Dutch pioneers were ready with Venlo greenhouses to grow out the seeds and run selections from large populations. It was illegal, but I don’t think authorities were really looking for it. Greenhouses would have thousands of red plastic roses on bamboo sticks for flyovers. The breeding work that was continued in the states by thousands of growers created the best stock of all in my opinion, and the most diverse by far, and the two pools still regularly intertwine. For me, diversity is definitely the key to success.

The 2nd age of Dutch genetics was when we started getting Diesels and OGs to incorporate into the Dutch breeding pool in the early to mid-2000s, which is what you see a lot of influence from now.

Dan: It’s interesting you say that because I would hypothesize a large amount of modern American genetics were derived from Americans who traveled to Amsterdam to buy Dutch seeds in the late 80s-90s and into the early 2000s. Most of my old school neighbors in Humboldt originally worked with genetics brought back from hippie travelers, but later incorporated Dutch genetics into their breeding. I guess it goes both ways.

Can you tell us about your breeding work with The Flying Dutchman? What was your breeding program like and what techniques did you use?

Sjoerd: Sure. My job was to run these initial hybrids and landraces that were selected years earlier and diversify the lineup; both through open pollination and creating new crosses with newly available genetics.

We were working with genetics that The Flying Dutchmen founders Rotterdam Fred and Eddie R had selected from the mid-80s. They received seeds from The Skunkman who had a large collection of genetics and breeding stock brought over from California. This was way before my time. I never worked with Skunkman. I just worked with Eddie on the resulting selections 15 years later. They were mostly combinations of Indian, South African, Thai, and Afghanis, plus a lot of partially worked crosses such as some pure Haze lines.

I would grow out their worked lines and attempt to make new F1s trying to create stable lines with the desired traits we were looking for. Almost everything was crossed with Skunk on the wholesale market, so we tried to add some other pollen donors to the existing stock. Rotterdam Fred made some great Widow crosses that I still miss today. The Widows we used were from the Ingemar stock (White Widow and Peacemaker). There is a lot of confusion as to the origin of WW. Ingemar’s stock used by Fred had more Afghani influence and made great seeds.

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We were breeding for ‘Greenhouse Ready’ varieties selecting from the P1 and F1 trying to find new donors to work towards making stable F1s while trying to keep diversity from the old lines. I tried to select plants that would finish in time, selecting against the longest flowering equatorial sativas but still maintaining the quality of high that made them special, and on the broad-leaf side, breeding out some of the Afghan traits that would mold easily.

The group would start from 10,000 stabilized seeds, select down to the 10 best females and 3 best males within each line. They would cross each individual selection with each donor to look for combining ability, then test every combination by growing them out in 200 seed lots. The best would then be reproduced for the market, and those were the seeds we offered.

Dan: Wow, that’s an amazing breeding program; similar to what I do with selection ratios and preserving diversity but on a way more impressive and substantial scale. I bet you came across some amazing stand-out plants.

From there you moved on to some other international projects before landing in California. I hear you had a project in Africa. I bet that was quite the adventure. Can you tell us about that experience?

Sjoerd: Sure. I have done a few large projects abroad, including a few in East and South Africa, and Central America. One of the most memorable was a project in West Africa. It was under license from the government. These licenses don’t always hold water outside of their jurisdiction. You pay for your protection basically. We used to have a lot of UN helicopters fly over, we wore wide-brimmed hats and didn’t look up. It was 40 acres in a stretch of Savannah in the middle of the jungle. The project was built from the ground up with no heavy machinery. We started with 250,000 seeds for the first run.

We were actually there to grow not just Cannabis, but we were cultivating Artemisia Annua, which is used in Chinese medicine to treat Malaria. It was definitely an adventure. To develop our farms, we needed a lot of help and support from the locals, so we tried to give back to reciprocate. We were able to get the local villages to band together and help to build a health center, a school, and develop clean water sources. We also did a lot of road work, including 7 bridges which helped everyone a lot during the rainy season.

The cultivation was very challenging. The soil was mostly clay and we had minimal supplies. We did have 200 watering cans for emergencies, and there were a lot of emergencies. We had some lime to apply to the soil and small amounts of dried fertilizer which we used sparingly, and we had to hand water because we didn’t have enough pressure to run irrigation. The concrete water reservoirs we built were used as swimming lesson pools for the local kids, as many drown in the rivers.

cannabis world news interviews rows of small cannabis plants in white containers inside of outdoor warehouse

We had a 2-acre nursery covered in 3-foot strips of mosquito netting that we sewed together on sewing machines. We had generators to power some light bulbs to veg, which attracted so many insects that the screens would be black with them in the morning. They all lay their eggs through the screens…ingenious really.

We were growing mostly F1 Afghani skunk crosses, Skunk and Haze Skunk crops. We had challenges with the climate and everything from crazy plant diseases we’d never seen before, to pests we had never dealt with.

It was interesting seeing which plants and genetics could handle it. I’d say only 3 or 4 plants out of every 100 showed strong resistance and thrived; with the broadleaf Afghani/Hindu Kush crosses as the only phenotypic outliers that survived. Colombian and Mexican varieties did especially well.

As a Cannabis grower, I always felt that we move around a lot. Tracking out an escape route and burying a couple of phones, a passport, and an overnight getaway bag was normal behavior in some of the more extreme social or political environments.

I remember on one of the African projects there had been no rain, bone dry. We did not have a water supply and were relying on 200 watering cans to irrigate 4 oz. of water per plant on 40 acres with our 200-person crew. It was impossible. To see 50 of these guys turn up and carry out a fully-fledged rain dance was unnerving, but not as unnerving as the massive purple bruised clouds and biblical amounts of rainfall that landed on our fields, and only our fields, for twenty minutes. Plants were literally floating past me as I crouched on my knees watching in disbelief. We didn’t need the watering cans for three weeks after that.

Overall, it was an amazing experience that I learned a lot from about what I could handle and what’s important. We were eventually shut down after a few years.

Dan: What an amazing story and experience, so cool! Moving on, so when and where did you make it to the US?

Sjoerd: We came to Northern California in 2008 and established a Collective under the prop 215 model, growing mostly outdoor and light deprivation. After several years I took on an opportunity in Arizona.

cannabis world news interviews aerial view of giant cannabis cultivation operation

Dan: I’ve seen you share photos on social media of your medical cultivation operations in Arizona. It looks like one of the most dialed state-of-the-art facilities I’ve seen. I’d love to hear all about it.

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Sjoerd: In Arizona, I really learned a lot through this project. I was amazed at the high level of expertise at which the Tomato and Cucumber guys operated. I realized again that I would be able to learn every day and never scratch the surface of what there was to know; much like Biodynamic Ag or breeding, and how much I respect agricultural workers after seeing their skills and experience operating in these large greenhouses.

In Arizona, the project’s founders had searched for the best location based on climate for cannabis cultivation. They found an ideal location with a facility previously used for tomato production to convert into Cannabis, with cool nights and mild daily average temperatures by comparison to much of Arizona. The water was plentiful, and the water quality was incredible. After a lengthy negotiation, we got the greenhouse. Once we took over, it took another 18 months for the build-out as it was pretty run down. We chased out the animals, cleaned it up, re-leveled the floor, added double gutters, we re-did almost everything. It took a few years to add the blackout and lighting over the whole 7 acres. We had a very small team to start – Isaac Pabst, JP, and maintenance manager Henri, who helped us dial everything in. We had 3 or 4 people at the very start, we upgraded the head house for drying/curing/processing and basic extraction.

Once we had everything built it took an additional 18 months to get our cultivation operations dialed in and running efficiently. A mix of Cannabis growers and professional Greenhouse growers. Eventually, daily greenhouse operations were slowly passed to professional greenhouse operators and growers who continue to improve the process every day. The whole thing has been a huge learning experience for me. Every big job I ever took was above my pay grade; just part of the Cannabis thing, I guess. That’s what we’ve all had to do, figure it out by ourselves and within small, trusted groups.

Dan: You’ve seen a lot of different genetics over the course of your career, and I know you did a lot of R&D in Arizona, testing out varieties from lots of great breeders looking for special standouts. What kind of keepers did you find?

Sjoerd: We ran over 250 varieties in Arizona. Around 30,000 seeds in the first two years or so. The Willcox/Sunday Goods team still plants 300-500 seeds a month for R&D pheno hunts. We did lots of R&D looking for plants that were vigorous, resistant to disease and pests, and for which it was easy to create a demand. All seed lots and their subsequent selections were run several times from clone in Arizona’s 6 seasons, most importantly during monsoon. It takes a while to get a plant into full production, more time than the industry has time for, so we are sometimes a little behind the IG strain race, but not by much lol. We found some amazing plants including Sour Power OG and Headbanger from Karma Genetics, Chemistry from Boston Roots, and Lemon Vuitton from Swamp Boys.

We actually ran lots of new things on a large 10-acre outdoor project in Arizona last year and found some really nice selections from some seeds I made with Dutch Dragon and Banana Diesel as donors. Overall, nowadays I prefer to run smaller seed lots on a regular basis. When it is done well it fits seamlessly with the rest of the clone and flower production cycle.

cannabis world news interviews rows of cannabis plants growing in large greenhouse facility

Dan: Now that you have a management team dialed in Arizona you have a new project in Northern California. Tell us what you’ve been working on, I hear this is exciting news.

Sjoerd: Traveling back and forth between Arizona and California over the last few years, I did some consulting work on a large facility in Salinas. I still have a few clients there that have a great ethic that I really like, as well as a seed production spot where I’m hoping to do some work with some of my favorite breeders in the next couple of years. Ryan and my partner Eva from Wallflower Nursery and Radioridge Nursery are doing amazing work, working with the best old-school breeders and growing out their genetics. I am excited to grow out some of these new old-school flavors in Lake County.

From it all, I’ve learned how to build a team and not to act like you know all the answers. That will bite you back fast. Every house and facility is completely different from top to bottom, and they all need completely different approaches.

In Lake County, I’m really excited about this project, really several farms and projects. My business partner Autumn and I are looking at it critically and objectively as we plan and build it from scratch. It’s very different from what I’ve been working on in the last 5 years. We’ll be working with native soils as well as above-ground troughs, slowly building up organic living soils over time with natural amendments and using cover crops. It’s the type of farming I’d really like to be doing.

Lake County could definitely do with some tax income. The influx of licensed farms as well as the recent expansion of vineyard acreage will help generate thousands of jobs and much-needed infrastructure improvements.

Dan: Cool. What will you be growing? Do you plan on wholesaling, or having a brand?

Sjoerd: Genetics are always changing, so I’m always adapting and changing what I grow based on market trends, and what breeders are working on. For me, it’s always partly following the market and partly creating a little buzz around genuinely interesting genetics. The hype feeds your ability to grow what you love and work with people you respect. It’s important to be flexible with what you grow.

We always keep a lot of things in our partner nurseries and make seeds out of our best stuff to preserve and search through down the line. A few

favorites we’ll likely always grow are an LVTK, Banana Diesel, and Dutch Dragon. Those cuts seem to do very well everywhere.

We are planning to build these three farms, our processing facility, develop brands, build a world-class extraction facility with our new colleague Thomas R, and see where the rollercoaster of the next few years takes us.

Dan: Sjoerd, thank you for your time and for answering all of my questions. I really appreciate it and thoroughly enjoyed our conversation and your stories, and I think Skunk’s readers will too. As always with the Breeder Diaries we give you the last word, what’s yours?

Sjoerd: I love the way that Cannabis has managed to use us as a vehicle for tens of thousands of years to proliferate and diversify herself. In return, she has given us food, shelter, comfort, and medicine. Both sides of the relationship have an agenda, and both sides benefit. Now that we are able to grow, breed, and research in the open she will surprise us with more gifts, but when there is a headlong rush, things get lost in the shuffle. We lost tens of thousands of food crop varietals in less than a century for example.

As long as those special plant breeders and preservationists keep up the important work of crossing, documenting, and storing genetics, Cannabis will thrive. That’s expensive for the breeder though and sharing those commercially unprofitable seeds with others splits the burden. It got us to where we are today, and now there are tens of thousands of growers that would love to be a part of this mission.

Follow the author online: @rblgrwn @ganja_rebel_dan @rebel_grown_seeds

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