ARC Linkage to pilot quality controls of hemp food crops for Australian growers

Associate Professor Tobias Kretzschmar (right), world expert in plant breeding and genetics, with Andrew Kavasilas, CEO of industry partner Kavasil Pty Ltd, inspecting cannabis plants.

Southern Cross University is supporting the emerging Australian hemp food industry to develop high nutritional value hemp varieties better suited to local conditions.

Amid global demand for higher quality health foods, this new research project – funded by the Australian Research Council – puts Southern Cross University at the forefront of local hemp industries and bolsters three decades of university research on hemp and cannabis.

“New Crop on the Block: Genetic Control of Hemp Seed Nutritional Quality” received $530,543 over three years through an ARC Linkage Project grant (LP210200606).

Associate Professor Tobias Kretzschmar, a world expert in plant breeding and genetics, will lead the project. His team will work in conjunction with industry partner Kavasil Pty Ltd, a regional hemp research and development (R&D) and consultancy company based in Nimbin in the NSW Northern Rivers.

Hempseed, rich in polyunsaturated oils and high-quality protein, is becoming a functional food crop on a global scale – and Australia is on the way. However, very little is known about the genetic control of oil and protein content and composition, traits that are crucial for optimizing hemp seed productivity and quality for the Australian industry.

Handful of hemp seeds

Hemp seeds.

“The project will involve the characterization of hemp germplasm for seed quality characteristics, including seed size and nutritional composition,” said Associate Professor Kretzschmar.

“Most importantly, we will link genotypes (genetic makeup) to phenotypes (visual or chemical characteristics/traits) through quantitative genetic approaches. This will help improve hemp seed varieties for Australian needs in the future. »

A unique genetic resource of 120 diverse hemp accessions (cultivars), comprised of globally sourced germplasm and accessions provided by Kavasil, will be used to define the genetics underlying nutritional variation and associated genotype-environment interactions.

This foundational knowledge will lay the foundation for targeted breeding and best management practices to benefit farmers, the hemp industry and health-conscious consumers.

The project will be conducted at the Southern Cross Plant Science Laboratories and on the grounds of the University’s Lismore Campus.

Despite years of over-regulation and stigma, Associate Professor Kretzschmar said hemp was an ideal crop for Australia.

“Hemp has enormous potential as a food and medicinal crop. The seeds are a rich source of omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids with similar health benefits to fish oil, except they are plant-based vegan and don’t have the problems odor and the ethical concerns associated with animal products,” he said. .

“Hemp seeds also contain large amounts of essential amino acids, important for a balanced diet. Like soy, hemp can be used as a protein crop. Like canola, it can be used as an oilseed. In addition, its flowers are rich in nutraceutical and medicinal compounds.

“Hemp’s versatility makes it the Swiss army knife of crops,” said Associate Professor Kretzschmar.

Industrial partnership

Kavasil Pty Ltd is focused on increasing the value of hemp products by marketing high value hemp seeds as a functional food; advising and changing policy regarding hemp-based foods for human consumption (through Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ)); and supporting R&D in hemp cultivation, hemp variety improvement, hemp nutritional value, and hemp seed processing.

Southern Cross University now houses, maintains and works with the Kavasil hemp germplasm collection, which is critical to this project.

Andrew Kavasilas is the founder and CEO of Kavasil Pty Ltd.

During his 20+ years in the hemp industry, Mr. Kavasilas has collaborated with Southern Cross University on several hemp and cannabis research projects and played a pivotal role in shaping the regulatory landscape. and in driving the approval of applications and the subsequent introduction of hemp seed foods for human consumption in Australia.

Mr. Kavasilas said, “One of my main goals is to develop markets and supply chains for ‘hemp-based functional foods’ with nutritional and health benefits.

“This can be achieved by increasing domestic production of premium ‘clean and green’ products. One of the keys to sourcing, processing and marketing Australian grown hemp products is the development of locally adapted hemp cultivars that produce large seeds and high concentrations of ‘functional’ components, e.g. fatty acids, proteins and other complex compounds,” said Kavasilas.

The ARC Linkage project represents an important moment for the Australian hemp and cannabis industries at large.

“Resolving the genetic contribution as well as genotype x environment interactions for these key functional components of the cannabis plant will be essential for our future breeding programs and expansion plans,” Kavasilas said.

“This clearly aligns with our strategic goal of developing appropriate genetics, sourcing, processing and marketing increasing volumes of high value Australian grown hemp products.”

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