Seed World

Cornell to House Nation’s First Industrial Hemp Seed Bank

Cornell University will house the nation’s only industrial hemp germplasm repository – a seed bank – co-located at Cornell AgriTech in Geneva, New York.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. who helped secure $500,000 in federal funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture Research Service (USDA-ARS) made the funding announcement on Friday.

“I fought tooth and nail to secure this federal funding,” says Schumer, the Senate minority leader, “while also working to strip back the burdensome federal restrictions that held our farmers and growers back from growing industrial hemp as an agriculture commodity, because I knew the potential this crop had to transform the upstate New York economy.”

At the new repository, the USDA-ARS will maintain the germplasm and collaborate with Cornell University scientists, where they already partner on research for grape, apple, cherry, tomato and Brassica crops.

Larry Smart, professor in the Horticulture Section of the School of Integrative Plant Sciences, said the hemp repository is a desperately needed resource. The seed bank will enable researchers to identify pest-resistant and disease-resistant genes, giving them the tools to breed new varieties. Getting to the root of crop health, Smart said, is essential for providing better resources to New York hemp growers.

Beyond New York, the new seed bank will benefit hemp growers all across the nation. Christine Smart, professor in the Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology section of SIPS, said these resources will let them breed hemp varieties that will grow well under different conditions.

She thinks cultivars developed at Cornell could be ready for growers within five years.

Understanding and cultivating these living, genetic resources provide the most promising ways to support growers. The market for hemp has already skyrocketed in the U.S.: According to Cannabis Financial Network, the hemp industry was projected to grow from $400 million in 2016 to $2.1 billion in 2020.

 “The more germplasm that scientists have access to,” Smart says, “the better the chances are that we’re going to breed plants that are useful, whether it’s for managing pests or specific climates.”

“The hemp seed bank and the research potential it gives our Cornell and USDA-ARS scientists will be vital resources for New York state farmers,” says Kathryn J. Boor , the dean at Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “We are grateful to Sen. Schumer for his hard work to secure this federal funding.”

For additional information, see this Cornell Chronicle story.