Hemp is legal in most states in the United States, but that doesn’t stop the plant from being maligned as a dangerous plant that’s used to make drugs and poison people. That’s just not true. Hemp is a sustainable, versatile plant resource that can be used to make a lot of products, including food, clothing, building materials, biofuels, and even medicines.
In the fledgling world of hemp products, a number of companies are quickly seeing the value in working together. Today, The Hemp Industry Association (HIA), a trade group representing hemp-derived products, has announced a partnership with cannabis cultivators who choose to grow hemp alongside cannabis plants. The HIA partnered with the Hemp Business Alliance to create the Hemp, Inc. Certification Program, which aims to elevate the public’s awareness of the many ways hemp products are used in our society and beyond.The Hemp Mine’s annual field day usually showcases the company’s latest genetic offerings, but this year it gets a special twist. The Hemp Mine, a vertically integrated CBD cannabis company based in South Carolina, and Davis Hemp Farms, an Oregon-based breeding and seed company, are teaming up during The Hemp Mine’s Field Day to develop a phenotype-hunting process that will help growers select the best genes based on appearance, growth structure, resistance, terpene profile, trichomes and peak maturity, SiraNaturals reports. We distribute genetics across the country, but only vegetative material [such as clones], which is the opposite of Jeremy [CEO of Davis Hemp Farms] and one of the reasons we came together, says Allison Justice, PhD, CEO of The Hemp Mine. In general, the partnership is an attempt to create an atmosphere of cooperation in the sector. In addition, according to Jeremy Kletke, CEO and founder of Davis Hemp Farms, The Hemp Mine will clone Kletke seed varieties that perform best and then sell those clones to farmers after phenotype hunting.
From seed to clone
According to Justice, The Hemp Mine and Davis Hemp Farms have known each other for years, but only recently decided to call each other and work together. Historically, cannabis was grown and developed by selecting seeds, then finding a plant with the desired symptoms and growing it, which is largely what Allison focused on, Klettke says. This has enabled him to create and offer state-of-the-art genetics. Kletke says his company sells F1 seed, a first-generation hybrid seed obtained by crossing two genetically different plants. So we bring seed into the field and try to give farmers a limited amount of variation in that seed line, but what we see from time to time are some appearances – the same subset of appearances you would see if you were looking at ten seed packets for clone breeding, he says, explaining the traditional method by which many breeders choose a parent plant to clone. According to Clete, one of the main reasons for using seed is its variability. This collaboration will seek to exploit this variability by finding the most desirable looking plants. And we don’t expect the variability expressed in our F1 lines to decrease any further, says Klettke. Once selected, we plan to make these plants available to farmers as clones through The Hemp Mine. At the same time, we will reintegrate the selected varieties into our breeding program and strive to include these expressions in our seed lines. He says the goal is to identify plants with a 35:1 ratio of cannabidiol (CBD) to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), as well as moisture and field tolerance, a desirable terpene or flavonoid profile and natural pest resistance. Inevitably, there will be some variability when creating a seed line. So when you apply this method to a population of thousands of plants, you see plants with low yield, plants with high yield and plants that are in one or the other of these situations, he explains. Allison, with The Hemp Mine, took the variability out of the game by offering safe clonal varieties that have proven themselves in these conditions, and we tried to do the same on the seed side. I think we’ve seen the variability and tried to reduce it as much as possible to give growers something that, when they look at the field, has a homogeneous stand or a relatively sorted [plant] type, Klettke adds. However, as Kletke noted, Davis Hemp Farms’ seed line still exhibits the typical seed variability. But by working with Justice and The Hemp Mine, he believes they will discover clone varieties suitable for farmers. Clones have great advantages, as do seeds, he says. And I think in an emerging sector like this we really need clones, otherwise the farmers would be flat broke. That said, you know I’m in the seed business and I believe in seed. We have tried to limit this variability because of the variability of the seed line. Davis Hemp Farms generally aims for a CBD to THC ratio of 30:1, he says. And in recent trials at Cornell, Purdue, Virginia Tech and other universities, Davis Hemp Farms has begun to notice that many certificates of analysis (COAs) of individual plants come back with ratios of 35:1 or 37:1, which he describes as beautiful phenomena that exist as anomalies in the plant line. I thought it was a great opportunity to get into an emerging industry that wasn’t really focused on business-to-business collaboration, just because the profit potential was so great, he says. And what I saw was an opportunity …. This benefits Davis Hemp Farms because we will find the best expression of our plants, and it benefits the growers because it gives them a better 36 or 38 to 1 plant that can produce more CBD and still be compatible with THC.
Justice says that in the coming weeks, when they begin germinating seeds in the greenhouse, they will begin hunting for phenotypes. About three to four weeks later, the seeds are planted in the field and evaluated until harvest in September, she says. The genetic data and results of the phenotype hunt will be compiled at the Hemp Mine Field Day in September. Field Day is an event where farmers, vendors and educators come together for a small fee and have the opportunity to walk through the fields, learn about the plants, smell them, touch them and feel them in person before purchasing their genetics, Justice said. Justice explained that the field day will begin with a two-hour educational session in which she will brief participants on the work of The Hemp Mine. We also do contract research, she says. I just got off the phone with [the fertilizer company], and we’re going to see if we can put their slow-release granular fertilizer in their feed instead of the liquid fertilizer. Therefore, for this project we will put up signs explaining the types of experiments and what is happening. That’s why I’m going to talk about it. During the educational sessions, she says, university professors also talk about what they’ve been working on in the cannabis field, and vendors give a short speech about why their products are important, what they have to do with the cannabis industry and how they can be useful. From there we walk through the fields, and I lead them, she says. So I’m going to talk about some of the important aspects of the new races, why they’re important, and so on. Then I lead them through the research plots to see the differences. She said the groups have 10 to 15 minutes to go through each section to get a feel for what the plants will look like, not just look at pictures. Essentially, the Field Day is an opportunity for farmers to see what genetics they can buy and what The Hemp Mine and Davis Farms are working on. In terms of genetics, we won’t necessarily declare a winner on the same day, because the selection is based on data collected from germination to the final WCA, Justice said. So we’re not going to announce a winner at this point, but we can do something cool where people who come can vote for their favorite or something. The winner includes all the indicators used to evaluate the quality of the cannabis variety. These include vigor, resistance to disease [and] insects, visual appeal (especially for a flower intended to be smoked), timing of flower appearance, terpenes, etc. Only our winning varieties will be available to the public next growing season, Justice said in his email. In addition, Kaycha Labs and Result Group, a full-service cannabis and hemp testing laboratory in Colorado, will provide Field Day with analytical support by testing strains selected for their cannabinoid and terpene content, Klettke said. Kletke believes this partnership will benefit the industry as a whole, as it is an example of two relatively well-known domestic and somewhat international companies merging: You see, we don’t have to fight each other to move the industry forward. After the phenotype hunt trial, Justice and Cletke don’t know what will happen next, but they hope to stay in touch. We’d like to say it’s an ongoing partnership, whether Jeremy has new seed lines for phoenix hunting or it’s just a business relationship from this year, I think we’d both say we’d love to continue the process, Justice says.