The USA’s Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research’s (FFAR’s) Hemp Research Consortium has provided grants to Cornell University to support a long-term hemp breeding program.
US hemp growers have been somewhat limited in the choices of hemp varieties they can grow. And with most being strains cultivated in Canada or Europe, these varieties may struggle in certain US growing regions.
As Canada and Europe have longer days during the summer growing season compared to the USA, hemp varieties from these regions also tend to result in smaller yields, particularly in lower latitudes – and smaller yields mean less profit.
FFAR’s grants – $1,170,000 and matched by Consortium partners for a total of $2,340,000 – are to support a breeding program aimed at cultivating more suitable hemp for grain, fiber and CBD production in various U.S. growing regions
One of the key areas to be researched involves whole genome sequencing to better understand flowering time variation; with view to developing molecular markers to accelerate breeding for southern-adapted cultivars.
Cornell breeders are already selecting for late-flowering plants being grown in trials in New York, North Carolina and Florida that also produce high yields of CBD, something FFAR says has never been achieved before. Furthermore, the new cultivars are showing “undetectable” levels of THC, avoiding the risk of “hot” crops. In the USA, hemp is considered marijuana if THC levels are above 0.03 percent dry weight.
“Matching flowering time with latitude is the key barrier to improving hemp yields across all market classes – grain, fiber and cannabinoids,” said Cornell’s Dr. Larry Smart, who is leading the research. “While this project will lead to the development of new cultivars that can produce high yields of CBD in Florida, the tools we will develop can be applied broadly in hemp breeding programs.”
Cornell University is playing an increasingly important role in hemp research. While its School of Integrative Plant Science has assembled an interdisciplinary team of researchers and specialists to investigate how New York State can move forward in developing its hemp industry, this new project will have benefits reaching far beyond the state.
FFAR’s Hemp Research Consortium is a public-private partnership bringing together stakeholders from across agriculture to address research and market gaps, and advance a sustainable hemp industry in the USA.