May 28, 2020
The gene-ius way forward
Most farmers in the agricultural industry are looking at hemp’s sustainability factor and as a rotational-crop factor that can give a farmer long-term viability.
And some key areas where hemp can establish itself as a true commodity crop alongside corn, cotton and soybeans are the hemp grains, hemp seed and hemp fiber side. The key is to develop markets for these aspects of the hemp plant—both domestically as well as internationally.
The way to do that is through seed genetics. Today, probably three-quarters of all hemp grown in the U.S. is for its CBD content, which is derived from the flower. But what of the stalks, stems and seeds? Selective breeding got market leaders such as Charlotte’s Web to produce hemp biomass that is a consistent, high level of CBD with negligible levels of THC. The problem lies with seed genetics being not universally understood.
“The majority of genetics out there are not stable,” said Wendy Mosher, president and CEO of New West Genetics, a hemp seed genetics seller. “You can’t cross it twice and call it a new thing. It takes seven to 10 generations of breeding to breed something.”
In-the-field farmers concur.
“It takes successive years of successful breeding,” said Tim Gordon, president of the Colorado Hemp Industries Association and chief science officer at the Functional Remedies hemp CBD brand. “A couple of bad crosses does not lead to a stable variety.”
A pair of recent Cornell University study found that genetics are vastly more important than environmental inputs—at least when it comes to the quantity of cannabinoids exuded by the plant.
“Both studies found in well-bred, genetically stable plants, genetics are mostly controlling cannabinoid production,” said Preston Whitfield, business development advisor at the NoCo Hemp Expo. “On yield, it’s 50/50 genetics versus the environment. But genetics can stabilize cannabinoids—over 80% versus 1 to 2% on the environment side. This is great news.”
That means farmers can reliably create products with safe and steady cannabinoid content.
And as a practical tip for farmers, third-party seed genetics suppliers has done the work for you and can provide certified seed.
The exciting aspect of selective breeding and using selected genetics from seed suppliers is the opportunity to select for multiple uses—not just for high CBD content.
We’re talking dual and even tri-purpose varieties.
“They are available,” said Gordon. “They are largely legit.”
Imagine planting a seed that has a primary purpose as a grain but can also product 4-5% CBD as well. The math could work out—especially in a farm with large acreage—to be just as if not more profitable than planting a seed with 10% CBD but no other real commercial use.
“You could do better as a farmer with the dual,” said Gordon. “That’s the importance of your supply chain.”
Dual-variety hemp seeds, then, is the real opportunity for farmers hoping to be successful in the hemp business. The gravy days are over, and the spoils today go to those honed on efficiency measures.
“Dual crop all day,” said Daniel Garcez, cultivation director and business development manager at Uncle Green, Inc., a California distributor of cannabis seeds. “But supply-chain constraints are a key factor. Existing processing infrastructure, and where traditional industries are at with contracting hemp by-products, are questions every farmer should ask.”
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