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Cross-pollination can lead to massive losses in both the cannabis and hemp industries, not only in outdoor farming but also in indoor cultivation. While the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill was supposed to be a celebratory event, it has raised more questions than provided answers.
If hemp can send pollen spores up to 3 km away without the help of pollinating insects, how far is far enough when it comes to the property lines of the neighboring cannabis farm? That is just one of the many questions the new Colorado legislation aims to address.
House Bill 21-1301
In addition to defining several terms to be used throughout the industry, House Bill 21-1301 has convened a working group to evaluate measures used to minimize the cross-pollination of cannabis plants. The group will consist of affected licensed marijuana cultivators (in Colorado), a cannabis geneticist, two AgTech software company representatives, cloning specialists, seed developers, agricultural surveyors, industrial hemp representatives, and a scientist specializing in cross-pollination.
- Find solutions to minimize volunteer cannabis plants
- Identify best practices for data sharing between registered outdoor hemp cultivators and licensed outdoor marijuana farms
- Expose the potential for cross-pollination between outdoor cultivators
- Examine the standards developed by agricultural organizations
- Determine the feasibility of funding and conducting field studies regarding the cross-pollination of outdoor cultivation sites and volunteer cannabis plants
The working group will recommend measures to prevent pollen spread; however, it will not recommend mandates based on the type, location, or timing of any crop planting. All findings must be reported on or before November 1, 2022.
In The Meantime, Detection
One of the problems that wasn’t discussed in HB21-1301 was the fact that cannabis pollen can infiltrate the ventilation systems of indoor grow facilities. Pollen, however, isn’t the only concern for cultivators. As consumer-packaged goods, cannabis and hemp products are subjected to regulation surrounding mold and dust particulate.
Using a multitude of data and advanced microscope technology, an automated particulate sensor like Pollen Sense can sample the air quality and report its findings within an hour. The units are relatively small, taking up about as much space as a large shoebox (boot box). The sensor box is portable, provided it has access to a standard U.S. power outlet and an internet connection.
- IoT technology utilizes artificial intelligence to sample and detect
- Creates a digital image of actual particulate using internal microscopes
- 1 hour turnaround time from detection to report
- Data reviewed by Aerobiologists to consistently improve algorithms
- Continuous sampling for dust, pollen, and mold with species differentiation
- Pattern identification of location and timing of particulates
- Rent, lease, or purchase options
- Sensors available for indoor or ambient outdoor air
Prevention Is Possible
Mitigating the risks of cross-pollination outdoors can prove to be a challenge. Current research shows viable pollen can travel 10 miles, although the risk is negligible beyond that point. Technically, geographic isolation would work; however, it isn’t feasible due to its complicity both environmentally and legally. Currently, physical isolation is the only real-world solution.
Organizations with established indoor grow facilities could create filtered, positive-pressure environments to reduce outdoor contamination through enclosures and advanced HVAC systems. A “positive-pressure environment” is one in which the internal pressure exceeds the pressure in the surrounding environment. Any leak within a system that maintains a positive pressure environment will exhaust rather than intake (like a balloon).
Advances in container farming and automated commercial grow tech can give cannabis and hemp farmers the ability to create a closed biosphere with less cost than traditional cultivation methods. The Freight Farms Greenery™ S can perform a complete atmospheric system cycle in 2 minutes or less, while other companies like Agdaptive ensure containment.
For the outdoor grower, greenhouses provide a manageable, if not profitable, solution. Since 2006, Airstream Innovations has been manufacturing and installing USDA certified, large-scale greenhouses with positive-pressure environments. Unlike a conventional greenhouse, Airstream Innovations can be built in less than two weeks (for one-half to one-third of the cost).
The War Continues?
Cross-pollination has caused such contention amongst growers that future legislation plays a role in the relationship between hemp and cannabis farmers. As of 2019, certain jurisdictions were establishing “no-hemp zones” to avoid the issue, while counties in California enforced guidance to prevent hemp from contaminating well-established outdoor marijuana products.
Some producers are optimistic about the prospect of a working group, while others, such as AJ Mullins of AJ’s Craft Cannabis, believes success outdoors will never happen: “The only way you could [prevent cross-pollination] would be to eliminate hemp altogether and have all of the cannabis growers plant clones, and it’s just not practical.” He believes the group will respond by creating larger buffers between cultivators, but the effort is futile with the number of cultivators cropping up in the area. In response, he’s moved part of his operation indoors.
He isn’t necessarily wrong. While Colorado saw over $2B in sales from the cannabis industry last year, it registered over 40,000 acres of industrial hemp farms.