Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Cornell Researchers Advancing Industrial Hemp

Christine Smart professor of plant pathology and director of the School of Integrative Plant Science discusses Cornell hemp researchAs farmers across the state get ready for the 2018 growing season, an interdisciplinary team of researchers from Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) is preparing to oversee a second year of industrial hemp field trials across New York State.

Cornell has been funded to develop, support, and advance the best management practices for optimal growing and processing of industrial hemp. Cornell scientists and research technicians are continuing to study and evaluate potential production barriers (e.g. disease and insect pests) and to identify and breed the best commercially available hemp cultivars for the state’s broad range of agricultural environments. The goals of the program include establishing certified seed production within the state and developing basic agronomic and production-cost information for growing industrial hemp in different locations around New York State.

The 2014 U.S. Farm Bill legalized the growth of hemp for research by Departments of Agriculture or higher education institutions in states where it has been approved by law. And in 2015, New York became the 19th state to legalize hemp research trials. Last month, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell announced a plan to legalize hemp nationally, as an agricultural commodity.

Initial Cornell studies focused on establishing comprehensive planting protocols, with researchers comparing different seeding equipment to determine the best practices for sowing hemp seeds in a variety of New York soils.

Last year, the state expanded the Industrial Hemp Agricultural Research Pilot Program, which is overseen by the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets (NYSDAM), to include research trials at Cornell’s Ithaca campus, at the NYS Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, and on 1,700 acres of hemp planted in collaboration with SUNY Sullivan, Binghamton University, and private farms across the state. CALS researchers organized field days at research farms, allowing potential growers to look at hemp varieties and their suitability for oil and fiber production. The effort established preliminary insights into the most promising cultivars and optimal growing conditions for New York.

This year, aided by $2 million in new state funding, Cornell announced that it would be initiating a long-term hemp breeding program and expanding cultivar trials into the North Country, at the William H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute in Chazy (Clinton County). The southernmost field trial location will be the Long Island Horticultural Research and Extension Center in Riverhead (Suffolk County). New York is well-positioned to become a major producer of industrial hemp and the industrial hemp research project, which ultimately focuses on developing and improving basic agronomic outcomes for current and future hemp farmers, will lead to the development of cultivars adapted to a diversity of New York State growing conditions.

The hemp grown in this project may also be sold for processing, which will develop price data from the open market. Compiled sets of agronomic, cost-of-production, and trade data will provide useful and practical science-based knowledge and information, which will assist hemp farmers, potential growers, and the hemp industry with making informed production and business decisions.

Profesor Chris Watkins Ph D Director, Cornell Cooperative Extension and Gov. Mario Cuomo discussing hemp research and farming opportunitiesSpeaking at the state’s first industrial hemp research forum, held Feb. 28 in Cornell’s Stocking Hall; the home of CALS Lab Space, as well as the Cornell Dairy; Kathryn J. Boor, the Dean of CALS, told assembled farmers, processors, scientists, and government officials, “Cornell and CALS are uniquely positioned; with our School of Integrative Plant Science (SIPS) and Cornell Cooperative Extension; to provide research-based answers and outreach to support this initiative for New York.”

NYSDAM commissioner Richard Ball anticipates that Extension will provide support to NY hemp growers, who are expected to plant as many as 3,500 acres into hemp. The forum examined several of the literally tens-of-thousands of uses and the wide range of markets for industrial hemp fiber and oil.

The hemp plant, cannabis sativa, has a history that can be traced back to ancient horticulture; like corn. Its present day uses include grain for food; oil for food, cosmetics, personal care products, and industrial applications; oil and straw for sustainable, renewable fuelstocks; and straw for industrial fiber. Hemp also has medicinal properties and can be used for medical purposes.

There are genetically distinct biotypes of cannabis, and those which have low tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) levels, the principal intoxicating agent in marijuana, are classified as industrial hemp. These low-THC hemp biotypes are the focus of the Cornell research.

Project leader Larry Smart, a professor in the SIPS Horticulture Section whose lab research is focused on breeding, genetics, genomics, and physiology of shrub willow bioenergy crops, believes that hemp cultivars bred for New York growers could be developed and ready for distribution for the 2021 or 2022 growing season.

For more information or to learn about participating in the program, visit

Photo: Christine Smart professor of plant pathology and director of the School of Integrative Plant Science discusses Cornell hemp research, and Proffesor Chris Watkins Ph D Director, Cornell Cooperative Extension and Gov. Andrew Cuomo discussing hemp research and farming opportunities.

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Richard Gast is a retired Extension Program Educator and has been contracted by Cornell Cooperative Extension Franklin County to continue his informative and thought provoking articles.

One Response

  1. Big Burly says:

    Well written Rich. Good job

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