U.S. seed bank could bring new cultivars within five years

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Hemp cultivars planned for development at a new seed bank under Cornell University in New York State, USA, could be ready for growers within five years, according to the University.

Cornell is to house the USA’s only industrial hemp seed bank at its AgriTech campus in Geneva, New York, with construction on the facility, officially called the “Industrial Hemp Germplasm Repository,” underway.

Bring on the germplasm

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture Research Service (USDA-ARS) provided $500,000 in federal funding for the project. USDA-ARS will maintain the germplasm and collaborate with Cornell University scientists, with whom they already partner on research for grape, apple, cherry, tomato and Brassica crops. The Repository also will work with farmers as it develops new potent and pest-resistant cultivars, the University said.

“The more germplasm that scientists have access to, the better the chances are that we’re going to breed plants that are useful, whether it’s for managing pests or specific climates,” said Larry Smart, professor in the Horticulture Section of Cornell’s School of Integrative Plant Sciences (SIPS). He said the hemp repository is a desperately needed resource that will get to the root of crop health, and is essential for providing better resources to New York hemp growers.

Hemp backed in NY

But the new seed bank also will benefit growers across the U.S. by developing varieties that will grow well under different weather and soil conditions, said Christine Smart, a professor in the Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology section of SIPS.

New York officials have strongly backed the re-introduction of hemp in the state, noting its potential to improve the fortunes of upstate farmers.

The U.S. government destroyed its last remaining stockpile of hemp seeds in the 1980s under federal laws that banned the crop. Hemp returned to the USA as a legal crop with last year’s passage of the 2018 Farm Bill.

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