As the hemp industry tries to adjust in the wake of the USDA’s interim final rule on hemp, it has emerged that the entire cannabis sector is facing an unforeseen and deadly challenge; cross-pollination between marijuana and hemp plants. Farmers in states that had preexisting outdoor marijuana programs have felt the effect most, with most of them stating that cross-pollination from hemp farms can result in losses worth thousands of dollars as it renders the flower products unmarketable.
Robert Morf owns and runs Chesire Creek, an outdoor marijuana farming project in Waterville, Washington. According to him, his problems began this year when, in a bid to open up Washington to hemp production, the state’s governor signed a bill which abolished the legally required 4-mile buffer between marijuana and hemp farms. This was soon after Congress passed the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized the cultivation of industrial hemp. “We took a big hit,” he says. Male plants from a nearby hemp farm cross-pollinated his 600-acre farm, and he expects to lose about $40,000.
The cannabis plant’s biology makes it a tricky crop to farm. It is a dioecious plant, and it has male and female reproductive parts in different flowers on male and female plants. The female cannabis flowers produce a lot more cannabinoids, especially THC and CBD when they aren’t pollinated. THC (delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol) is the compound responsible for the psychotropic high that marijuana is famous for, while CBD (cannabidiol) is a potent medicinal compound that’s produced in high quantities by hemp. Pollination results in reduced THC and CBD levels, so both CBD and marijuana producers avoid male plants at all costs.
Research at Michigan State University found that a single male cannabis flower can produce up to 350,000 pollen grains capable of traveling great distances in the wind. Clearly, even careful marijuana farmers with no hemp farms nearby can find their crop cross-pollinated. Wendy Mosher, Colorado seed breeder and president and CEO of New West Genetics, says that a grower will lose about 1% of total cannabinoid content if a field is cross-pollinated. According to her, Colorado farmers growing hemp for CBD processing are also experiencing cross-pollination, and they are unable to locate the source. “It’s just impossible to tell where it’s coming from.”
Marijuana grower Morf says his flower is full of seeds, and this has reduced his usable volume and overall quality. He has contacted local and state politicians, but no solutions have been forthcoming.
Experts fear that these cross-pollination issues could adversely affect the payouts of companies like Marijuana Company of America Inc. (OTCQB: MCOA) and Organigram Holdings Inc. (TSX: OGI) (NASDAQ: OGI) since farmers are paid based on the quality of the plant matter harvested.
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