Arcadia JV expands Hawaiian hemp cultivation as “industry awaits legal clarity”
16 Oct 2019 --- Archipelago Ventures, the recently formed joint venture (JV) between Arcadia Biosciences and Legacy Ventures Hawaii, is scaling its Hawaiian hemp cultivation footprint. The JV has also introduced a new autoflowering hemp varietal, as well as initiating oil extraction operations on the islands. This will ultimately allow the JV to further develop and test highly specialized, resilient and productive proprietary hemp seeds for a variety of different climates. This is critical for ensuring that hemp reliably has THC levels below the federal limit to avoid having to destroy crops.
“Consumers are interested in adding plant-derived solutions to their diet and, increasingly, in their own wellness routines. The explosive growth of hemp-derived essential oils like CBD is a good indicator of this consumer interest,” Matthew Plavan, CEO of Arcadia Biosciences, tells NutritionInsight.
“We also work closely with farmers every day to develop crop varieties that help improve their profitability. Hemp, which has largely been a black-market crop in the US for almost 100 years, needs genetic improvement in all areas – its architecture, resilience to diseases, field yield and essential oil yield,” he adds.
The company is developing a product line of sun-grown Hawaiian CBD and other hemp extracts, which Arcadia will bring to market through Archipelago in the near future. It is also working on seeds aimed at helping growers produce more reliable and more valuable hemp crops
Since the JV’s formation in August, it has expanded its cultivation footprint on Hawaii by three times, from 10 to 30 acres. This is through partnerships with two new license holders and will increase its biomass production. It also widens Archipelago’s scientific testing to examine the effects of different agricultural variables within one microclimate, such as soil type and elevation. The research will be used to develop seeds designed to behave reliably in a given geographic environment, bringing greater sophistication and reliability to the island’s cultivation practices, says the JV.
Controlling for genetics
A particular challenge in Hawaii is ensuring that the crop can grow profitably in the climate, meaning that fine-tuning hemp genetics is vital. According to the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, more than half of the hemp crops cultivated over the past year as part of the state’s industrial hemp pilot program have tested “hot,” meaning their levels of THC were above the 0.3 percent federal limit for hemp. Nearly all of these hot crops had to be destroyed.
Arcadia has the ability to deploy a full suite of crop improvement technologies, including both genetically modified (GM) and non-GM techniques. “For any given crop, we determine which toolkit to deploy depending on the consumer and market demands. For hemp, we do not use gene modification techniques for hemp. Instead, our improvements are focused on conventional, non-GM breeding technologies. Meanwhile, in soybeans for example, we have developed a transgenic solution for drought tolerance. More than 90 percent of the world’s soybeans are already GM, so this fits this market,” explains Plavan.
Archipelago is seeding the new acreage this month and expects to employ both permanent and seasonal staffers locally to execute the research plan involving crop management and harvest of several new varieties.
Meanwhile, the introduction of the autoflowering varietal to Hawaii’s pilot program will support year-round growth cycles unimpeded by the agronomic constraints of day length. The companies say that this will further maximize Hawaii’s geographic advantages by producing taller and more productive hemp plants that are not dependent on changing daylight patterns and day lengths.
Archipelago is also building large-scale mobile extraction and processing equipment to produce THC-free sun-grown hemp isolate or distillate.
According to the companies, the JV joins Arcadia’s genetic expertise and resources with Legacy’s experience in extraction and sales – and leverages Arcadia’s existing licensed cultivation facility in Hawaii. Last month, Arcadia announced the closing of its previously announced registered direct offering of 1,318,828 shares of its common stock, raising nearly US$10 million.
As a newly legalized agricultural crop, hemp presents a number of unique challenges, as well as vast opportunity. “First, the whole industry awaits clarity with regard to federal rulemaking in line with the 2018 Farm Bill. The rules should provide clarity and, in fact, may force some standard definitions of quality and safety in hemp-derived products. We welcome that,” says Plavan.
He continues that growers have difficulty producing a profitable harvest when the crop is so far from optimized. The demand for seed exceeds supply, driving high prices, and the quality of that seed is highly variable. Low germination rates and lack of stable varieties mean growers often do not get what they pay for.
“We believe the entry of proven crop seed companies like ours, which knows how to produce a consistent variety and use modern seed conditioning techniques to optimize performance, will bring these necessary improvements. Finally, we see a future where hemp varieties are improved through modern breeding science to have quality attributes appreciated by growers and consumers alike. This is similar to what already occurs in corn, wheat and other crops,” he adds.
These attributes include disease resistance or even THC-free varieties that growers can reach the end of the season with a harvestable crop. The JV’s team of breeders and geneticists is actively working to introduce those kinds of crop improvements in the coming years.
By Katherine Durrell
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