The USDA‘s research agency is developing the nation’s first hemp seed bank with Cornell AgriTech in Geneva, N.Y. With this hemp seed bank, researchers and hemp breeders can identify and study hemp varieties that are resistant to diseases and pests. They’ll also be able to create new hemp varieties that can adapt to many different growing environments.
Cornell’s Hemp Research Program
Horticulture professor and leader of Cornell‘s hemp research program Larry Smart said the U.S. government used to have vast collections of hemp seeds available for professional research. Sometime in the 1980s, the US government destroyed the last remaining collections of hemp seeds after the plant was declared illegal in the USA during that time.
But when the Farm Bill of 2018 legalized growing hemp federally, support for hemp research started growing again. Back in August, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer announced the USDA hemp seed bank would receive $500k of funding from the federal government.
Smart said, “The challenge now is to rebuild a widely diverse collection of hemp varieties that will hopefully represent the full range of its genetic diversity.”
The Geneva USDA Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) will be tasked with building up, characterizing, and maintaining of the seed bank’s hemp seed collection, Smart said.
The USDA-ARS will keep the hemp seeds in special temperature-controlled storage in one of their buildings in Geneva, which should keep the hemp seeds viable for ten years or more, Smart said. And because it takes time to find and collect all the different hemp varieties, it might take a couple of years before US hemp growers can access the seed bank.
Hemp Seed Bank
Smart and his team have already started sharing the hemp seeds they’ve collected through the USDA-ARS. For example, they’ve found a type of “feral hemp”—hemp previously cultivated for fiber but started growing in the wild because its seeds naturally dispersed.
Yet some people may not be as willing to share hemp seed varieties they’ve collected.
“People who own seeds are very protective of them because the industry is booming, and they know they have something special. These hemp farmers and breeders want to keep it to themselves and make as much money as they can.”
“If you are walking around outside and happen to find hemp growing in a ditch somewhere in New Mexico, you can’t tell just by looking at it if it’s hemp or cannabis. The only way to know the differences is to perform chemical analysis.”
Although hemp and cannabis look similar, hemp can’t get you high. Hemp has less than 0.3% THC.
This hemp seed bank is going to be the first of its kind. Stay tuned for more information and updates concerning the nation’s first hemp seed bank.