Hemp cross pollination could affect cannabis growers. Now, it is up to state governments to research and understand the agricultural impact of producing hemp near cannabis
Author – Max Richardson-Davis
Edited by Noah Persin & Jon Russell
Oregon is known for it’s vast wilderness, unpredictable weather, luscious landscapes and diverse agriculture industry. With the passing of Measure 91 (M91), Oregonians have begun re introducing two new crops to their already varied cornucopia: cannabis and hemp.
Both (cannabis and hemp) have a long history on the American landscape and culture. Oregon is well known to produce not only copious amounts but high quality cannabis and hemp (even given their federally illegal status). Southern Oregon in particular has had a long history of outdoor cannabis crops that take advantage of the late summer weather. M91 has legitimized the cannabis industry and not only have those farms grown but many new farms have come online. It has been estimated that Oregon growers produce approximately 400,000 pounds of cannabis annually.
Producing Hemp Near Cannabis
With the signing of the 2012 Farm Bill by President Obama; and recent legalization strides made in Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska; hemp is seeing the light of day in the United States again. For some, this allows for new opportunity. However, cannabis producers have voiced concerns in regards to where and how hemp plants can be grown.
Unfortunately, the agricultural science of growing hemp concerning; pollination patterns, recommended control areas and contamination zones; has not been thoroughly studied nor fully understood. The issue of dual-sovereignty prevents broader scientific research (the level of research that usually requires federal funding) and a change in the present federal legal status of cannabis and hemp is needed before large studies are undertaken.
For now, to learn more about Oregon’s agricultural process and the actual effects of hemp pollination, we conducted an interview with Todd Dolatto. Todd is the president of CAN! Research. Dolatto is also known for his work on the advisory committee for medical marijuana with the Oregon Health Authority, as a professor of botany at Lane Community College, founder of Hungry Bear hemp foods company, a wilderness ranger, sustainable agricultural writer, and a graduate of West Virginia University and Oregon State University in Botany and Horticultural research. Additionally, Dolatto is a member of the Oregon Growers Association and the National Chemistry Organization. We had the pleasure of asking Dolatto questions in regards to hemp pollination and what it actually means for those growing recreational and medical cannabis outdoors.
We spoke with Todd about two major topics concerning cannabis and hemp growers: breeding and production (recreational and medical). This article will discuss the production half and our follow-up article with discuss breeding concerns.
Image Source: The Weed Blog
“There are not many studies regarding hemp pollination,” Dolatto says. “One study from 10 years ago in Europe studied hemp pollen contamination of marijuana crops. Their results were similar to other wind pollinated crops.” This study seems to be the only real authority to go on for now. It is likely in-depth hemp studies have been conducted more thoroughly in both China and some countries in Europe, though public studies are relatively hard to come by given the United Nations stance against the cannabis plant. Oregon State University has publicly announced they are interested in studying the plant further but cannot get around federal regulations due to restrictions of their funding.
“For cannabis growers, one would presume that a three mile distance would likely generate one seed per plant at the most. It would not completely eliminate contamination, but it would certainly minimize it to such a degree that producers could continually and consistently be able to generate a high quality of product for cannabis users, maintaining a high level of confidence in the product and quality of their plants.”
According to Dolatto, who has dedicated his entire adult life researching horticulture, agriculture and cannabis, the hysteria of outdoor cannabis growers in regards to hemp plants is “non-sensical” and “easily avoided”. Dolatto concludes with: treat hemp and recreational and/or medical cannabis as you would agricultural plants and farmers and users alike will be without issue.
To reassure us Dolatto says, “A cannabis farmer roughly one to two miles away from a twenty acre (about 5 city blocks) hemp farm should expect to see a few seeds per plant. Again, this is just an estimate. For cannabis farmers, this would not translate into a devastating loss. What I am saying is cannabis plants in close contact to hemp plants are still smokable and maintain the ability to generate high amounts of cannabinoids.”
For medical growers, hemp cross pollination may not always be the worst thing. There is a great value in crossing hemp with cannabis for the purpose of medicine. Cannabidiol (CBD), a cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant known for it’s healing properties can be grown more efficiently in a cannabis plant after it has been crossed pollinated with hemp. This can help increase the CBD count in strains created specifically for medical patients.
Image Source: CBD Source
The amount of hemp being grown will certainly play a factor in cross pollination although not as much as some outdoor cannabis growers would have you believe. When you increase the size of the field, you do increase your probability of pollen grain landing on other plants but it’s important to remember that this is still within the same radius, or no more than 2 miles away for the most part.
Some have voiced concerns of the potential of pollen clouds emerging in hemp fields like have been seen in other wind-pollinated fields. When speaking to Dolatto, while he said there is an obvious possibility of a high concentration of hemp pollen forming over a larger crop, but again he said it will not spread outside of the 2-3 mile radius. Dolatto did warn that if someone were to be standing in such a pollen cloud and then went to a cannabis garden and violently touched and shook the plant there could be a small chance of cross pollination.
A hemp pollen cloud can only occur in a very brief window of time (less than three weeks) as well. Generally speaking, it is unlikely that even if one were to work in a hemp field and walk into a cannabis garden that cross pollination would occur. Hemp is a plant that releases pollen extremely efficiently, unlike many other locally grown crops (including cannabis sativa), meaning it does not have the potential to cross pollinate as much as most other plants.
Our next installment will discuss the concerns for cross-pollination for breeders and the so-called “pheno-hunters”. For now what happens next in the hemp industry is anyone’s guess, but it seems there is little cause for concern from cannabis growers.
Editor’s Note: We thought this may be interesting considering hemp’s future potential to supplant grass seed in the I-5 corridor: Hemp is a plant that is very unlikely to cause allergies, and being one of the first cultivated plants it has never had a reported history of allergies via pollination. Nor have recent hemp farmers made any complaints during the growing process. While some people do have a theoretical potential for an allergy to hemp, as they would with any wind carried pollen, the lack of reported allergies is further evidence of the lack of hemp’s air-pollination efficacy over 2 miles. Further research is of course required.