By: Kay Ledbetter
Texas A&M AgriLife will be planting hemp variety trials for the first time this spring, with a goal to provide producers, hemp seed companies and the larger hemp industry with a reliable, independent scientific assessment of hemp varietal performance in Texas.
Calvin Trostle, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agronomist and statewide hemp specialist, Lubbock, said they will begin implementing the Texas A&M AgriLife fee-based variety testing program for hemp cannabinoid, fiber and grain at Plainview and San Angelo under irrigation, and Commerce and College Station, both rainfed.
These trials will be conducted under the long-time Texas A&M AgriLife Crop Testing Program, which is a combined effort of AgriLIfe Extension and Texas A&M AgriLife Research faculty, Trostle said. This self-supporting program has offered public variety trials for wheat, grain sorghum, corn, sunflowers and soybeans, as well as other crops, for decades.
Due to the urgency to get trials planted in May, the due date for receiving entry forms, seed and payment is May 8. Anyone with questions about the program and protocol should contact Trostle at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 806-777-0247. He can provide the program description, fee structure and entry form, which can also be accessed at http://varietytesting.tamu.edu.
“We are adding hemp testing to the program for 2020, however, because we are getting a later start than we wanted due to meeting licensing requirements, we will not test in South Texas this year,” he said.
AgriLife Extension’s Industrial Hemp Education Initiative Team, established shortly after House Bill 1325 was signed into law by the Governor last June, determined the variety trials are the next step in educating potential hemp producers. The team has already gathered many hemp resources since that time. However, this is the first step in conducting Texas testing.
“Trial results for crops tested by Texas A&M AgriLife are used by farmers across Texas to make decisions on their planting seed,” said Larry Redmon, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension program leader for the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences and associate department head. “Our goal is that Texas hemp producers may enjoy the same type of information for their seed selection decisions.”
Utilizing the full expertise and resources of Texas A&M AgriLife, Trostle said it is especially important to identify varieties with low THC. THC must remain at or below 0.3% or the crop must be destroyed. As such, THC levels and seed quality are two of the main issues other states have dealt with since hemp was legalized.
He said the entry fees charged will cover the cost of conducting the program, which was established after reviewing the methodology of the few hemp variety trials to date conducted in other states.
“We will seek a balance between a bare-bones approach vs. an intensive assessment of hemp variety growth and performance,” Trostle said.
“This year will be trial run in some ways as we prepare for broader statewide testing, including South Texas in 2021,” he said. “For now, we are emphasizing seed trials rather than transplants or clones, though we will consider those planting stocks if needed.
“Long-term we believe field agriculture hemp will move toward mostly seeded production, which should have lower costs. With AgriLife’s eventual emphasis on certified Texas hemp seed, I think this will fix some of the concerns we hear about poor seed quality in other states.”
Certified seed should have improved genetic purity, higher germination and seedling vigor, Trostle said.
“If you are interested in participating, please notify me as soon as you can as we are working on the individual sites for field preparation,” Trostle said. “We will do our best to accommodate all interested companies, but if we receive more entries than we can handle, we will ensure that each company is represented as best we can. If the small-plot research is still tight for available planting area, we will choose submissions that are pursuing certified seed status in Texas.”