Texas A&M Explores Hemp Strains

While the Texas Department of Agriculture has approved over 400 different strains of hemp, farmers face the struggle of finding strains that will do well and not become overstressed in Texas’ climate. This problem has led Texas-based researchers from Texas A&M to search for a solution.

Conditions Hemp Grows In

According to the Climate CoLab, Hemp is ideally grown in conditions that contain a mild climate, humid atmosphere, and good soil moisture. The soil also needs different requirements throughout the plant’s lifecycle. These requirements include nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. In fact, Climate CoLab suggests, “To achieve an optimum hemp yield, twice as much nutrient must be available to the crop as will finally be removed from the soil at harvest.”

While hemp is known to be a robust plant that can grow in many climates, the more stresses the plant experiences can create problems for farmers. When a hemp plant is stressed, it produces more THC, the psychoactive cannabinoid found in both marijuana and hemp. Under federal law, legal hemp cannot test above 0.3% THC. The more stressors placed on a hemp plant create the higher chance for a hemp crop to fail testing.

However, Texas is not known to fit the ideal climate criteria very often. As a result, hemp farmers are often left struggling to grow the crop that remains compliant with state and federal regulations. Researchers at Texas A&M saw this struggle and began to tackle it head-on. 

Details of Study

According to Texas A&M Today, the college’s AgriLife Research hemp breeder, Russ Jessup, is leading a project to develop cultivars that are ideal for the Texas climate. In an interview, Jessup stated, “The goal is to create a collection that incorporates the majority of genetic variation across all cannabis within C. sativa that will benefit farmers with high-yielding cultivars, biofuel refineries with reliable feedstocks, customers with quality products, and society with beneficial ecosystem services.”

The two year grant given to the program has allowed Jessup to tackle this problem by creating new strains ideal for the Texas climate. However, the program does not come without its hurdles. Jessup cited a lack of uniformity and regional adaptation as major obstacles he hopes to help the industry overcome. Jessup predicted in his interview with Texas A&M Today, “If you can overcome adaptation and uniformity, I think the farmers and the markets will follow.”

Jessup plans to tackle this problem by creating new genetic diversity. The plants being bred in the program are selected for their heat and drought stress tolerance. This diversity will help farmers remain compliant with both federal and state industry regulations while also minimizing the THC potency risk factor.

The hemp plants within the project will be studied in three different regions in Texas; North Texas, Central Texas, and Weslaco. This variation will help researchers cultivate a more developed understanding of which strains can grow in which region the best. Their goal for this portion of the research is to determine which strains have the highest percentage of compliance compatibility in specific regions.

Expected Results and Early Findings

Jessup’s timeline estimates that by the end of 2023, they will be able to release 10 to 20 new strains specifically bred for the Texas climate. Their goal for the end of 2024 is to have another 20 to 50 released for farmers to choose from.

Jessup is confident in the project, stating that he thinks it will be a game changer in South Texas. In his interview with Texas A&M Today, he said, “If you know where to grow it, how much water is required, when it’s appropriate to plant, and when not to push it too far with deficit irrigation or with trying to raise it dryland, and if you appreciate agronomics, I think it’s going to be a great crop. So, we just have to learn.”

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