‘Breeding Is an Art Form’: An Interview with Cannabis Cup Champion, Exotic Genetix

(Trevor Hennings/Leafly)

When it comes to quality cannabis, it all begins with a quality seed created by a breeder. In the last decade, Washington State’s Exotic Genetix has taken a strong hold on the cannabis breeding community. Most recently, Exotic Genetix won Best Indica for their strain Tina in addition to Best Hybrid for Cookies & Cream at the 2017 High Times SoCal Harvest Cannabis Cup. Having claimed numerous awards since their beginning in 2008, Exotic Genetix is widely recognized for their consistent quality. Other notable strains include Kimbo Kush, Trap Star, and Lemon Meringue. Leafly was given the opportunity to catch up with Exotic Genetix’s founder, Mike, and get a look into to what fuels their success and where they’re headed in the years to come.

Exotic Genetix’s award-winning Tina in bud-form. (Trevor Hennings/Leafly)

Leafly: How did you find yourself breeding cannabis?

Exotic Genetix: I started out doing this for myself and friends about ten years ago. I made a few new strains and handed them out to friends, and they would bug me to make more new genetics. Before I knew it, I was making seeds for everybody.

I got into it because almost everything out there was junk. The cannabis clone market and low-grade genetics you’d find were insufficient–not to mention the bugs, pests, and diseases you’d find on the clones. That’s what got me started and gave me motivation. Back then, I wouldn’t say it was a passion, but now it is.

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Which strains are you most proud of? Do they express any traits you find yourself striving toward with other strains?

Exotic Genetix: There are a lot of strains I’m proud of. Early on, I would always focus on frost. Plenty of good strains have frost, but when we throw our twist on genetics or come out with new strains, they glisten and that is what we’ve strived for since day one.

“If you are going to take breeding seriously, it’s my belief that you should make something of your own first. It’s all about making it into your own art form.”

How do you look at breeding? Is there something you could compare it to?

Exotic Genetix: I look at breeding as an art form. I’m not the best out there, however I might be your favorite. People buy Picasso or Van Gogh paintings because of their fame, but there are great artists who aren’t famous and don’t cost as much. For these reasons, people go out and purchase those paintings because they like their style. It’s the same thing when breeding cannabis. People support us and stick with us because they like the product. Either they like your style or they don’t. It just depends on what you are into.

Tina, the award-winning indica strain, grows in the Exotic Genetix garden. (Trevor Hennings/Leafly)

As with all artists, there are opinions about how they created their art and its originality. What are your thoughts when it comes to “pollen chuckers” and the overflow of new genetics?

Exotic Genetix: We all start somewhere. If you want to produce seeds and chuck pollen, I say go for it. However, if you are going to take breeding seriously, it’s my belief that you should make something of your own first. Make your own male, make your own lineup. It’s all about making it into your own art form.

Once you’re an established breeder or seed bank, you can go out there and grab a little bit of this and a little bit of that, and try to put it into a different product. But it’s unfair to take something from Exotic and something from DNA Genetics and say, “I’m going to cross these two together and call this X,” and sell that under a new seed company name for a large profit. It’s an insult to the community.

“The largest influence for me would be the strong love and appreciation for cannabis in the community.”

Do you have any specific breeding stories you’d like to share?

Exotic Genetix: I went to Amsterdam about five years ago, and a friend of mine at Hortilab gave me some seeds that he had created with Karma that were never released. He said they were a cross of his Starbud x Karma’s Biker. It was such an amazing strain that I used it in my Triple OG lineup. Then I took this special indica that had a great fuel smell, and I crossed that into the Triple OG lineup and came up with the strain called Tina.

She’s colorful, potent, high in THC, and smells like jet fuel. If you’re going for a Kush, this is the mother of all Kushes. All the hard work paid off because we won Best Indica with Tina at the 2017 High Times SoCal Harvest Cup.

Tina is an indica strain bred and grown by Exotic Genetix. (Trevor Hennings/Leafly)

What outside influences have affected how you run your business or breeding projects?

Exotic Genetix: I was always a fan of growing forums back in the old days. Looking at all the backyard growers, secretly working to get their genetics out there–it was inspiring to see what could be done. I never thought it would be like this nowadays. The largest influence for me would be the strong love and appreciation for cannabis in the community. No matter what forum or website it is, when you start to meet and talk to these people, you realize they’re just like you. You realize we’re all out here trying to do what we love and not get persecuted for it.

Has legalization changed anything about how you operate?

Exotic Genetix: 100%. We used to just run medical cannabis out of Washington before recreational cannabis came around. We would go from state-to-state and follow their medical rules, and would partner with farms to produce our seeds in different states. We still use these practices in legal medical states.

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However, in legal recreational states, it’s been a little tough because we’re confined by strict regulations; the only genetics we see in the recreational states are through licensed producers. In Washington State, we have Green & Gold Brands which exclusively runs our Exotic Genetix products. In California, we have another program based out of Long Beach so we can hit the California market strong right out of the gate. We’re just trying to follow the rules everywhere so we don’t get in trouble for doing what we love.

Cookies & Cream is bred and grown by Exotic Genetix, and it won 1st Place Hybrid at the 2017 SoCal Harvest Cup. (Trevor Hennings/Leafly)

Can you speak to the farming practices that you stand by?

Exotic Genetix: Washington State requires a list of any pesticides you used when you sell that packaged product in a retail store. It has to be disclosed. You’ll find that Exotic Genetix doesn’t use pesticides or products that are going to hurt you. If we do use anything, it would be organic and applied very early on so that doesn’t linger. Something with a short half-life.

There are natural, organic pesticides out there that aren’t harmful to humans. However, it’s important to remember there are also organic pesticides that have half-lives that aren’t good for you. But at this point, we anticipate that no pesticide use will be necessary. We believe if you have a clean environment, there’s no reason to need that stuff to begin with.

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Outdoor growing is a completely different scenario. That’s why they make organic, natural pesticides that aren’t bad for humans. No matter how talented of a grower you are, you can’t keep nature off of nature, so to speak. In a controlled indoor environment, you really have no excuse for pest issues.

Where do you see Exotic Genetix heading in next decade?

Exotic Genetix: I see Exotic Genetix becoming a household name. I want to be like a craft beer that you go and grab off the shelf. I want to be that consistent, top quality product that isn’t going to break the bank. I don’t want to be the guy that raises prices when the product is mediocre. I want to be the strong name that you know is a good price for a great product.