Plant Breeding of Hemp
Since 1997, Ecofibre Industries Operations has been researching and developing subtropical varieties of hemp suitable for Australian conditions. This work commenced on Norfolk Island, with successful lines being trialled in Queensland in 1999-2000. The best performing line to date has yielded 18.5 t/ha of dried stalk from trial plots. Work is continuing to stabilise the characteristics of this variety for commercial use. Ecofibre Industries Operations’s current commercial production is based on another of its early breeding successes, “CHA”, derived from lines trialled on Norfolk Island in the late nineties, and more recently “CHG” which has shown to be superior performer in northern and southern Queensland. Ecofibre Industries Operations is currently working with several promising new lines and accessing and investigating a number of others. Ecofibre Industries Operations will obtain Plant Breeders’ Rights (PBR) for commercially suitable varieties.
RIRDC/DPI/Ecofibre Industries Trials on Planting Hemp
Ecofibre Industries and the Queensland Department of Primary Industries (DPI) undertook a three year trialling program of new hemp and kenaf varieties at two locations in northern and southern Queensland. The program which was overseen by Department of Primary Industries (DPI) scientist Dr Peter Lawrence was completed in 2008. This project linked with concurrent trials conducted by NSW Agriculture at Trangie Research Station in central NSW, as well as previous variety trial work in Victoria, Tasmania, Western Australia and central Queensland.
Ecofibre Industries and SCU Germplasm Collection and Maintenance
The Ecofibre germplasm collections commenced in 1997 and expanded in 2002 in collaboration with Southern Cross University (SCU) Centre for Plant Conservation Genetics (CPCG), stores over 200 varieties of hemp from all areas of the globe. It is one of the most significant germplasm collections of Cannabis sativa L. anywhere in the world. In this context germplasm refers to a collection of seed of Industrial Hemp and Cannabis containing the wide range of genetic variability of the species.
The collection needs to be maintained by growing out lines of seed to collect fresh seed for further storage (as all seed degrades over time). It is also important to collect new accessions for the collection as necessary. Hemp seed has a short storage life and is poorly represented in agricultural seed collections internationally. Due to the political history of industrial hemp, some varieties have already been lost, such as the highly productive “Kentucky Hemp”.
The germplasm recovery project is part of Ecofibre Industries’ breeding program focus, looking to assess new varieties and those that have been in storage for decades.
This work leads into a new Ecofibre Industries and CPCG collaborative genetic markers for accelerated plant breeding techniques, a leading approach to conventional plant breeding (rather than GE methods). Genetic markers can be used as a selection tool for breeding, focusing on properties such as THC content, time to flowering, fibre yield and fibre properties.
DNA Identification Project of Hemp
Ecofibre Industries Operations is an industry partner to an Australian National University (ANU) ARC funded project in identifying Cannabis varieties through DNA markers. This enables identification of any Cannabis cultivar or plant as being of a particular genetic source for either commercial or forensic purposes. For Ecofibre, this research has applications in both industrial hemp breeding and compliance monitoring.
Ecofibre Industries also conducts in house breeding work in Queensland under its Category 1 Research, Category 2 Research and Grower Licences (see http://www.dpi.qld.gov.au/hemp/), which enables closely monitored cross breeding and selection programs. These programs are aimed primarily at the development of suitable fibre cultivars for a range of markets over the long term of the fibre industry. Presently, the varieties we use provide good yields under Queensland growing conditions. In the future however, with the advancement of the technical fibre markets, we will need to produce fibre to a wide range of market specifications. Advanced plant breeding, in combination with the wide range of germplasm representing the genetic variability of the Cannabis species, is the way to achieve this.