The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is encouraging hemp growers to construct a Ghostbusters-like backpack vacuum that will allow them to collect up to 10 grams of cannabis pollen in less than a minute. It’s part of an effort to gather and distribute the pollen to an international group of researchers and breeders.
In an instructional video the agency recently posted, an official with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) first walks viewers through the process of building and setting up the device, which was invented by a former department employee and a hemp cultivator to streamline the pollen collection process.
The setup involves attaching a 100-micron mesh filter to a wearable vacuum nozzle with an affixed glass vial. The user then turns on the vacuum and gently runs the nozzle along the stem and leaves of male hemp plants. Because pollen is about 25 microns, it gets through the filter into the vial while raw plant material is kept out.
Watch USDA’s video on using the hemp pollen collection device below:
The device can collect “10 grams of high quality hemp pollen in under a minute,” USDA said. “We hope to use this device to distribute hemp pollen to an international group of hemp breeders and researchers.”
Farmers who are growing cannabis for flower or oils generally tend to avoid male plants, as they do not produce buds. But growers who find a strain they want to replicate—or who want to experiment with cross-breeding plants—can use male pollen and apply it to a female cannabis plant to produce the desired seeds.
The informational video comes from USDA’s Plant Genetic Resources Unit (PGRU), which has been partnering with university researchers and hemp growers to develop best practices to support the industry. The sector is playing catch-up with other agricultural commodities given that hemp was only federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill.
PGRU maintains the USDA’s hemp germplasm collection in order to “develop and apply curatorial techniques and approaches to conserve hemp genetic resources,” the agency says:
“These resources will be backed-up at the ARS National Laboratory for Genetic Resources Preservation, regenerated, monitored, and maintained with best management practices, so that high quality germplasm can be distributed to researchers and breeders within the hemp community. Vulnerable or threatened genetic resources for hemp wild relatives and cultivars will be safeguarded so that these critical sources of genes for hemp research and breeding are widely available. In addition, new genetic resources for hemp that might be suitable for U.S agricultural systems will be introduced.”
USDA has been promoting the hemp market in a number of ways, including recently teaming up with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture to host farmers for an educational event focused on cultivating cannabis in a “bio-based” economy.
The department also recently shared the success story of an Indiana-based hemp farm, touting how the agency offered financial and technical assistance to help the business to maximize its output of high-quality CBD oil.
USDA has also renamed a trade advisory committee to prominently feature hemp among a select group of specialty crops—reflecting the agency’s understanding of cannabis as a uniquely valuable commodity.
The hemp sector took a major economic hit last year, according to an analysis from USDA that showed the crop’s value drop precipitously across all metrics. Stakeholders have largely attributed the downturn to a lack of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations on marketing hemp derivative products, such as CBD oil, but FDA has insisted it needs Congress to enact such rules.
Bipartisan lawmakers in the House and Senate have introduced companion bills this session that aim to reduce regulatory burdens for farmers that grow industrial hemp for non-extraction purposes.
Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture.