WASHINGTON (March 15, 2022) – Hemp is an environmentally and economically sustainable crop—it enriches soil, requires little water, can sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and has the potential for a wide range of applications. However, previous hemp prohibition limited research and experimental breeding. As a result, there is a critical need for research focusing on this resilient and viable crop for US growers. To advance science supporting a sustainable hemp industry, the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) is committing up to $2.5 million to establish the Hemp Research Consortium, a public-private partnership bringing together research-intensive and land grant universities with industry participants.
Consortium members, including Agilent Technologies, IND HEMP, International Hemp, Oregon CBD, The Scotts Company and U.S. Sugar, are contributing matching funds to the Consortium for highly collaborative research conducted at the Consortium member institutions of Cornell University, NC State University, and University of Kentucky, for a total investment of up to $5 million.
Common crops such as soy and corn have been bred over centuries to consistently produce high, quality yields from year to year. Due to previous restrictions affecting hemp, little information is available on production practices that can help hemp farmers match the success of other crops. Hemp must make up ground through dedicated genetic research and breeding to provide growers with locally adapted varieties that can meet regulations on THC levels. In addition, as an underutilized crop, the hemp product demand is unstable and still being developed. While there are several potential applications for hemp, their success requires developing a market chain and demand and infrastructure for processing the crop.
“Hemp is an incredibly versatile crop with significant potential,” said Dr. David Suchoff, director of the Consortium and assistant professor at NC State University. “The Hemp Research Consortium aims to conduct highly collaborative, transdisciplinary research that leverages the technical and intellectual resources across the academic and industry partners. In doing so, we will be able to address many of the challenges faced by this industry and help to accelerate it forward.”
The Consortium is creating a safe harbor for growers and industry to de-risk investments in hemp development while contributing to the overall growth of hemp commerce. Focusing on addressing the immediate needs of a rapidly expanding hemp enterprise, the initial research priorities include breeding and genetics; hemp production systems, including pest and disease management; controlled environment production systems; novel product development and engineering; and training of a diverse workforce.
The Consortium provides advantages to a wide variety of stakeholders. Growers, processors, retailers and consumers benefit from a high-quality, resilient crop that offers opportunities for new food, health and personal care products; consumer textiles; and industrial applications. Hemp can also be a viable alternative crop for tobacco-dependent and economically distressed farmers. A strong hemp industry can have an important impact on global warming—during growth, hemp sequesters more carbon dioxide than any other agricultural crop.
“Our students are eager to apply the latest genomics technology to hemp breeding to quickly improve yield, uniformity and stability of hemp varieties to benefit growers, while meeting the needs of companies that want to use hemp in sustainable product development,” said Dr. Larry Smart, professor of Plant Breeding and Genetics at Cornell University. “The Consortium links our breeding program with end users for seed to sale solutions.”
“Hemp is a crop that can change the way we live. It provides an amazing food product that can feed the billions of people that call our world home, it provides a fiber product that is versatile to the point of creating millions of new jobs and it can help us clean up our environment that we’ve neglected for far too long,” said Ken Elliott, president of IND HEMP.
“We are extremely excited to be working in cooperation with so many great universities and private sector participants to create and develop hemp genetics here in the United States,” said Derek T. Montgomery, president/CEO of International Hemp.
“Hemp is a versatile crop with the potential to diversify the US agricultural portfolio if we can develop stable markets for hemp products. These markets will require a coordinated research effort across the entire supply chain to realize hemp’s potential. The Hemp Research Consortium connects industry and academic partners to identify and fill knowledge gaps,” said Dr. Bob Pearce, director of Hemp Programs, College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, University of Kentucky.
The knowledge generated by the Consortium will be publicly available through scientific publications, data-sharing and dissemination of research as appropriate, benefiting future public and private research efforts.
Image provided by Cornell University
About the Hemp Research Consortium
The Hemp Research Consortium is a public-private partnership created by the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research. The Consortium convenes stakeholders from across the agricultural spectrum to address research, market gaps and advance a sustainable hemp industry.