$500k is ‘down payment’ to re-establish U.S. hemp seed bank

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The Agriculture Research Service (ARS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has received $500,000 in initial federal funding to create the nation’s only industrial hemp seed bank at Cornell AgriTech, a part of New York’s Cornell University system that researches food and agriculture.

The germplasm repository will enable researchers to identify pest-resistant and disease-resistant genes, and the chance to breed new hemp varieties, said Larry Smart, a horticulture professor in Cornell’s School of Integrative Plant Science.

Curated collection

ARS will maintain the seeds and collaborate with Cornell scientists at the repository, where they already partner on research into grape, apple, cherry, tomato and Brassica crops. Researchers have already started collecting hemp germplasm for the project.

ARS funding for the seed bank, officially the “Industrial Hemp Germplasm Repository,” is a first step in re-establishing a national public industrial hemp seed bank overseen by a curator charged with characterizing, maintaining and distributing seeds, according to a press release from U.S. Sen Charles Schumer, who announced the grant.

5-year timeline

Christine Smart, a plant pathology professor, said the seed bank will benefit hemp growers all across the nation by maintaining genetic resources that will let them develop hemp varieties adaptable to different conditions. She said cultivars developed at Cornell could be ready for growers within five years.

The United States had a national hemp seed bank until 1970 when the plant was designated a Schedule 1 controlled substance. The Cornell project is “the downpayment necessary to reestablish this program and rebuild this lost collection,” Schumer said.

The seed bank is also a desperately needed resource and critical to providing reliable seeds to New York hemp growers. “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,” said Kathryn J. Boor, the dean at Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

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