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South Carolina researchers say they’ve developed a stronger plant

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Researchers in South Carolina say they have developed a hearty new hemp variety that can withstand weather that blew down crops tested in previous years.

A team at Clemson University’s Coastal Research and Education Center (REC) said the new variety, “Hurricane Hemp-Florence,” produces massive stalk and root systems that can stand up to heavy windstorms, common in many parts of the hurricane-prone coastal state. The new genetics were developed through a two-year project.

Hurricane Florence leveled much of the South Carolina hemp crop in September 2018, with farmers losing up to 20% of their yields. Brian Ward, an organic vegetable specialist and assistant professor at REC said those trials involved hemp varieties that were not bred for South Carolina conditions, prompting researchers to probe the potential for developing stronger plants.

Broad studies

The REC researchers are doing further studies to determine the most effective plant spacing, fertilization, and the best times to plant hemp crops, aiming to optimize farm economics.

Research with different hemp varieties in South Carolina so far has found that most perform best at 60-inch spacing, but some cultivars perform better at lower plant densities. Most reach peak biomass yields and CBD levels at nitrogen rates of 60-120 lbs. per acre, preferring about 80 pounds of nitrogen per acre, research has also shown. A fertility study found that the most biomass was produced by plants fertilized at a rate of 75-95 lbs. per acre.

CBD study

Clemson researchers say they also plan to study plant hormones to determine if THC production can be arrested as CBD in developing plants increases, which they say could help reduce the number of plants per acre, and give more control over when CBD is produced during the plant’s life cycle. That study is to include Hurricane Hemp-Florence and one hybrid variety.

Other Clemson research teams are studying such things as diseases and insect and weed pressures in hemp crops.

213 growers this year

Industrial hemp was first grown in South Carolina in 2018 when the South Carolina Department of Agriculture’s hemp pilot program licensed 20 farmers to grow the crop. That number ballooned to 265 in 2020, but dipped to 213 in 2021.

South Carolina hemp farmers now operate under a state plan that was approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture last year. USDA works with the Clemson Cooperative Extension Service and Clemson Department of Pesticide Regulation in supporting South Carolina hemp growers. The state’s Department of Agriculture has six full-time employees devoted to the hemp sector.

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