Local grower enjoys discovering new cannabis strains at greenhouse


On the front lines of marijuana innovation, Joshua Andersen, owner of SKöRD growery in Battle Ground, seeks strains of the plant to elevate the customer experience.

The process of pheno-hunting involves research, advanced agricultural practices and many cloned plants. The hope, Andersen said, is to discover a unique strain that can be marketed to dispensaries.

It’s not easy, however, especially since the marijuana industry has grown as more states have legalized the plant.

“Finding something truly unique was a lot easier 10 years ago,” Andersen said. “It was really easy to come out with something nobody had seen before when we first started.”

Andersen said the whole pheno-hunting process begins with the seed.

SKöRD stores thousands of seeds, each with the possibility of blooming into a commercially desirable plant that could become part of the business’s exclusive in-house lineup.

“With the cannabis plant specifically, every time a female plant is pollinated, it develops seedlings, each with the same genetic lineage but their own unique characteristics [or phenotypes],” SKöRD’s website states. “This means that when each seed sprouts, the plants may develop differently in their vigor, foliage, bud structure and, ultimately, the aroma, taste and effect of the final product.”

Phenotype hunting is a fickle business, Andersen said. Even if a plant with desirable characteristics is discovered, it may not be successful commercially. With so many different products available, sometimes a good product from a commercially viable plant doesn’t stand out enough to sell.

“Even if you find something super commercially viable, sometimes the market doesn’t agree with you,” Andersen said. “You have to provide something that consumers want.”

When a new commercially viable phenotype is discovered, it typically remains in SKöRD’s lineup for up to three years or until a better strain is discovered.

Each year, SKöRD grows two to three batches of plants for pheno-hunting. The company’s operations are fairly small, compared with larger commercial growers, according to Andersen.

“During the pheno-hunt process, our team searches through roughly 30-50 different seedlings at a time, looking for specific traits and characteristics. Only the best of the best will make it into the flowering room where their progress will continue to be documented and judged,” SKöRD’s website states.

Desirable plant characteristics include vigorous growth, as plants must grow within a commercially viable period of up to 10 weeks. Stability and hardiness are important since a sensitive plant is less likely to thrive. Andersen’s research team also looks plants with fewer leaves because they are easier to trim and produce more visually appealing buds. Flower shape and size are also important since medium-sized buds are more symmetrical and easier to work with. Phenotypes with a pleasant terpene profile, which impacts the taste and aroma, are also preferred.

When SKöRD’s research and development team discovers a new plant with desirable traits, usually once a year, it is cloned. The cloning process involves cutting the plant at the roots, applying growth hormone and coaxing it to grow foliage again within the controlled conditions of a garden cloche.

Once the cloned seedlings grow and flower, the buds from the best plants are harvested, packaged and released as a reserve, multi-phenotype blend. A second batch of clones is grown of the best plants, and the harvest is packaged and released commercially for customer feedback. After a year of pheno-hunting and testing, the best strain of the year will become part of the core lineup, such as Night Wedding, Tasty Trees and Animal Cocktail.

Andersen’s passion for marijuana genetics led him to found SKöRD in 2015. The versatility of the plant, and the seemingly infinite variations, fascinated him, he said.

Despite the difficulty of his work, Andersen plans to continue phenotype hunting.

“We just do a little bit constantly because you can’t put all your eggs in that basket. Most of the time, you don’t get something,” Andersen said. “When you do find something, it’s huge. And then, they stick around for years.”

To learn more about SKöRD and the pheno-hunting process, visit iskord.com/pheno-hunts.