U of I Extension to develop state’s first hemp database

(Photo by Western Illinois University)

Illinois hemp growers will gain state-specific variety and production information thanks to Phillip Alberti, University of Illinois Extension commercial crop educator, and growers in his 2020 project.

Illinois growers have one year to gain production information, such as how various hemp varieties fare in different soil and under various farming practices, before more stringent federal tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) rules take effect, Alberti told FarmWeek.

Illinois hemp growers lack research-based production information that is readily available for corn, soybeans and other crops.

“If seed is doing well here (in northern Illinois) and southern Illinois, does it perform the same as those (varieties) under different conditions elsewhere?” Alberti asked.

Recently, Alberti emailed licensed growers across Illinois about his database project. He learned last week the Cannabinoid Database project recently expanded to include Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana for a regional database with the same protocols across the four states.

Interested Illinois growers are asked to complete an online survey to determine if they qualify. For a survey, email Alberti at palberti@illinois.edu. At a minimum, growers must agree to submit samples for THC testing at least twice per variety, keeping specific records and submit information, he added.

For Alberti, getting to this point proved challenging. About a year ago, Liz Binversie, University of Wisconsin Extension ag educator, sparked an idea that hemp growers need basic plant information to comply with upcoming federal rules, according to Alberti. However, researchers lacked standardized hemp sampling protocols for lab analysis so those were developed and agreed upon.

Alberti’s next challenge was conducting research variety trials and analysis tests. “In universities, testing is done in the lab, but we (U of I) can’t get into the lab (due to COVID-19),” he said. While wondering how to conduct hemp variety trials, Alberti thought about turning to the growers themselves.

As for key laboratory analyses, Alberti contacted Rock River Laboratory Inc., Watertown, Wisconsin. The lab agreed to partner in the one-year project and offer a 60% test discount for participating growers, Alberti said.

Along with growers’ seed sources and names of varieties planted, Alberti will gather information about varieties’ THC levels, agronomic performance, and farmers’ production systems and challenges encountered. Participants’ personal information will be kept confidential and not shared with the public, the Extension educator stressed.

In return, growers will gain data sharing and networking opportunities. Alberti added growers will be able to learn about other production systems. His goal is for growers to be able to search a publicly accessible database by county, soil type and texture, seed source and variety, he said.

By turning to hemp growers to help themselves and their fledgling industry, Alberti said he hopes to gain hundreds of data points across Illinois as well as the Midwest.