Cultivar Availability Casts Doubts About Seed Supply in 2022

By Trevor Yahn-Grode, Data Analyst, New Frontier Data

Overall, the largest segment of the U.S. hemp industry is ultimately projected to be hemp fiber. However, mounting concerns are arising over the availability of quality genetics to fuel that growth in the near term.

“Dependable” genetics – i.e., those seeds capable of delivering predictable yields that avoid risk of running “hot” (i.e., testing above the regulatory legal limit of 0.3% THC) – require cultivars that have been fully acclimatized to a geographic region, a process which can take upwards of seven years. Due to the U.S. federal government’s 81-year-long prohibition of hemp cultivation, however, states have primarily been using cultivars developed for use in Europe, Canada, and China.  For the most part, those cultivars have performed adequately, but issues have emerged in hemp crops located in warmer climates, which tend to be at higher risk for testing hot.

It is not that there is a volume shortage of seed, but rather that cultivars have yet to be fully acclimatized to southern regions. The threat of a seed shortage is particularly acute in western Texas, where farmers have been embracing hemp as a natural fiber crop in response to record-low cotton prices.

Ensuring farmers access to dependable genetics is essential to the long-term viability of the hemp industry. Without it, long-term planning is all but impossible both for farmers and processors. The risk of a seed shortage lies behind industry calls for raising the THC limit of hemp crops from 0.3% to 1.0%. Industry advocates point out that a THC limit on fiber crops ultimately used for industrial products serves no real purpose, and makes it harder for farmers – who can face uncertain legal jeopardy and financial liabilities for testing above 0.3% THC – to grow the crop.

Grain production in North America is less at risk of a seed shortage, since cultivation is primarily happening in northern latitudes, and because Canada’s List of Approved Cultivars (LOAC) was recently expanded to allow for a wider collection of hemp genetics – an act which could have a major impact in the remaining competitiveness of Canadian hemp farmers. Cannabinoid production is least at risk of a shortage due to oversupply of biomass still in the market. The severity of any potential seed shortage in 2022 will be determined by the strength of demand for hemp fiber this year.