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GENEVA, N.Y. — Jacob Toth once studied the genetics of wheat for the Canadian government. He now uses the same science to pioneer hemp research for New York state.

Researchers like Toth are at the forefront of New York’s emerging hemp market as it races to lead in an industry legalized for commercial growth only two years ago and that has tripled in acreage nationwide every year since 2016.

Toth is among 30 Cornell University scientists working to develop a profitable hemp crop for New York farmers. The stakes are high: one estimate put the global industrial hemp market at almost $5 billion in 2019, and it is expected to grow exponentially in the coming years.

At their Geneva facility a couple miles west of Senaca Lake, Cornell hemp researchers are busy breeding hemp to adjust for agricultural challenges from disease, insects and flooding, as well as legal concerns, such as restricting the psychoactive THC content.

At the same time, scientists are also growing and selecting plants for a variety of different products, from fiber to grain to CBD. CBD is the chemical in cannabis that has proven effective for treating epilepsy and other neuromuscular symptoms, and has become popular for reducing anxiety and chronic pain.

With CBD at the head of market trends, Cornell hemp’s researchers currently focus their breeding efforts on creating a plant that will help New York farmers cash in on sales that are projected to reach almost $650 million in the United States by 2022.

But as pollination problems and federal regulatory turmoil challenge the practicality of high-CBD plants, Cornell researchers aim for a middle ground: a dual-purpose variety geared toward grain production as well as mid-range CBD content. Their work could mean the difference between a crop that flourishes or flops for growers across the state.

Avatar for Amanda Paule

is a magazine journalism and French and Francophone studies sophomore and reporter/digital editor for The NewsHouse.

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Avatar for Amanda Paule

is an advertising and policy studies junior and visual producer for The NewsHouse.