Technology

Innovations in Hemp Genetics

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Written by Colby McCoy

As a result of recent legalization efforts (2018 Farm Bill), hemp is projected to reach annual revenues in the tens of billions by decade’s end. For many growers who have experienced the low returns and marketplace unpredictability of other types of crops, hemp is quickly becoming a point of salvation. That said, producing a viable hemp crop that is market eligible is far from an easy task. Even if one has managed to produce a robust, healthy hemp crop, there is a federal hoop to jump through – all hemp crops must register 0.3% or less in total THC content. If a hemp crop is above threshold of 0.3% it is commonly referred to as “hot.” To assist growers in avoiding “hot” crops, technologies in hemp genetics have begun to be developed with exciting results.

It has been a widely held belief that environmental factors play the largest role in hemp’s THC levels – think heat stress, climate, and light exposure. This leaves the question of genetics to the wayside, that is until very recently. In a 2020 study, it was found that genetics play a larger role in THC outcomes than was originally expected.[1] The study utilized 217 plants from 14 different cultivars that underwent a CCP-1 chemotype assay that detected three genotypic groups with corresponding phenotypic groups. Each group produced different levels of total THC concentration where a certain percentage met the 0.3% THC limit whilst other samples failed to meet the threshold.

As a result of these preliminary findings, multiple hemp genetics firms have begun to develop genetic solutions to the often-unpredictable outcomes associated with industrial hemp production. An example being New West Genetics, which is responsible for developing the first US-based commercial variety of hemp. Describing New West Genetics’ goal, CEO Wendy Mosher stated that New West is focused on “creating mechanized, stable varieties for the modern hemp market.” Hemp producers face a great deal of risk – bad weather, disease, market gluts, and crops not meeting the 0.3% THC threshold are huge causes for concern.

If New West Genetics and other firms within the hemp genetics space were to develop a highly stable, genetic variety of hemp with industrial production capabilities, it could certainly be a game changer. Until then, hemp producers will have to hold tight and continue to operate under a system that is both high risk and reward.

Sources:

  1. Toth, JA, Stack, GM, Cala, AR, et al. Development and validation of genetic markers for sex and cannabinoid chemotype in Cannabis sativaGCB Bioenergy. 2020; 12: 213– 222. https://doi.org/10.1111/gcbb.12667

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Colby McCoy

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