Cornell Study Says Genetics Are The Cause Of Hot Hemp

A recent study conducted and published by Cornell University suggests that it is the hemp genetics that makes a plant “run hot.” These findings contrast the popular belief that it is the field conditions and environment that cause the plant to test above legal THC limits. 

Environmental conditions is a broad term that can include a number of factors: the soil in which the plant is grown, the irrigation and watering methods, the temperature, the humidity, to name a few.

When the Cornell team conducted their trials at two different sites in the state of New York, they studied 217 different cultivars. The results showed that the conditions of each grow site had little influence on the plant’s chemical production. They did, however, find a very high correlation between genetics and chemical production. 

The research team is seeking to provide seed breeders and farmers purchasing seeds with genetic markers that are user friendly to identify a specific cultivar’s genes for THC production. They are also developing a genetic marker that will identify the sex of the plant before it flowers.

If this study is backed and confirmed by other researchers, and these genetic markers become available, it could have a major impact on the industry (though not likely until the 2021 season). 

The End Of The “Regional Craft Cultivar” Positioning 

Many industry experts have predicted that in the very near future, Big Tobacco, Big Pharma, Big Food & Big Everyone will swoop in, purchase farms and consolidate the hemp growing market. 

Despite this, there is also the belief that some small farms will survive and go the route of the craft beer market and craft wine market.  This type of brand positioning focuses on products that are produced regionally and use local resources as means of production. For this to apply within hemp, it would mean certain cultivars grow better in certain geographies and climates, thus making them a popular regional offering.

If this study holds true, then it won’t matter where a cultivar is grown because the environment and condition will not have an impact on the crop’s cannabinoid production.  This won’t kill the craft market, but the local/regional brand positioning will have to revolve around something other than the plant genetics.

Reduced Labor Costs for Male Seed Detection

Labor costs to scan the field for male seeds is a real expense. And the larger the acreage, the more people (and more time/money) is required to walk each row to spot and remove males.

Most of the reputable seed breeders and sellers are offering 99%+ feminized seed, but that doesn’t guarantee 100% females.  There is still some level of risk of males that will involve a labor force to keep a watchful eye.

There are currently in the market those drone equipment and service providers that can help combat this issue. Coupling those services with genetic markers to determine sex can significantly reduce a farmer’s operational costs per acre.

Seed Breeder Accountability 

As with any nascent industry where standards aren’t fully defined and regulations aren’t fully enforced, there is a “wild west” period where many businesses enter the market for quick money and short term vision. Often times it is the buyer (in this case, the farmer) that is duped. 

This exact scenario occurred during the 2019 season, where it was hard to determine who could be trusted to supply quality feminized seeds with high germination rates. Seed suppliers weren’t held accountable; many farmers paid for bad genetics and weren’t able to successfully harvest.

There was also the issue of CBD and THC percentages that were shown on a COA not matching what a farmer actually produced.  It was often said by the seed sellers that it was the farmers fault for not growing the hemp properly.

If Cornell’s study holds true, and their genetics markers become ready available for farmers, it will force seed breeder accountability and help weed out those suppliers that have no business being part of the maturing hemp industry.

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