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By Erin Rodger
  • Cornell AgriTech
  • Cornell Cooperative Extension
  • Horticulture Section
  • Agriculture
  • Plants
  • Crops
  • Horticulture
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Virtual extension during the COVID-19 pandemic is expanding the reach that researchers at Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Science (Cornell CALS) have to new audiences, as evidenced by a virtual hemp field day this month.

The Aug. 20 event hosted by the Cornell Hemp Research Team on Zoom, drew 359 attendees from the U.S., Canada, Germany, South Africa, the Netherlands, Thailand, Costa Rica, Mexico and the U.K. to learn about the latest research tips for the hemp industry.

Cornell’s Hemp Field Day is an annual event that — in a typical year — draws hundreds of growers, scientists and entrepreneurs to Cornell AgriTech’s hemp research fields in Geneva, NY, to learn about the challenges, solutions and opportunities associated with growing different hemp varieties.

“State and University safety guidelines prevented us from hosting in-person event for a large audience this year,” said Larry Smart, professor of horticulture. “So we opted to bring our hemp fields to attendees’ computer screens instead.”

The virtual event, led by Smart, featured 15 faculty, graduate student and postdoctoral associate experts, who spoke to attendees about hemp genetics and breeding, crop management, supply chain and regulatory updates. Speakers shared hemp insights from their respective remote locations, including hemp research fields, labs and home offices. Social distancing measures were practiced and masks were worn by speakers being captured on video to ensure safety throughout the virtual event.

Event highlights included discussions from graduate students George Stack and Jacob Toth on challenges associated with the levels of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) in various hemp varieties. Producing hemp with THC levels under the legal limit has been a regulatory challenge for many growers and the students’ genetic research findings offered a glimmer of hope that the Cornell hemp breeding program is developing cultivars and tools for growers aiming to meet legal requirements.

A man wearing a red shirt and baseball hat standing in front of and talking about a green leafy plant
Two people stand in front of a plant, inspecting the leaves
A man standing in a greenhouse

Seizing the opportunity to engage in a dialogue with Cornell CALS hemp experts, many attendees asked questions throughout the event, largely seeking guidance for the latest pests and diseases affecting hemp crops. Experts like Jennifer Starr, research support specialist, Marion Zuefle, extension area educator at New York State Integrated Pest Management and Lynn Sosnoskie, assistant professor of horticulture, provided details about everything from weed management to stink bugs and powdery mildew affecting hemp crops.

Growers in attendance also expressed concerns about emerging market issues associated with the pandemic, consumer demand and upcoming regulatory changes. Experts from Cornell Cooperative Extension, New York State Agriculture and Markets and the New York State Department of Health offered information on trends and changes to help attendees adapt.

“The hemp industry has its growing pains, but has a lot of potential overall,” said Chris Logue, director of the Division of Plant Industry at New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets. “I commend Cornell for offering such a thorough program at this event and for addressing so many of the issues affecting the industry.”

This year’s field day confirms that Cornell hemp expertise can be successfully shared both remotely or in person and that the industry values the event in either format.

“Cornell’s Hemp Field Day has been a must attend meeting for our cultivation team since its inception as  it’s a valuable opportunity for brave hemp farmers to network and share successes and challenges,” said Paal Elfstrum, CEO of Wheatland Farms, the largest indoor grower of hemp in New York state. “The real world scientific data that faculty and students present at the event helps guide the decisions we make every day at our greenhouse facility.”

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