In the four years since legalization, cannabis has become a major crop, contributing >40 billion dollars to the Canadian economy. However, cannabis has also a gigantic carbon footprint; it accounts for about 4% of the total greenhouse gases from Canadian agriculture, despite occupying <0.01% of cultivated land. Producing one kg of cannabis flowers generates as much CO2 as flying roundtrip from Vancouver to Germany five times. The culprit is indoor production, which consumes large quantities of natural gas and electricity for heating, cooling, humidity management and high-intensity lighting.
A possible solution is to switch to outdoor production, which can reduce emissions by 96% according to preliminary estimates. However, outdoor production of cannabis in BC and other high-latitude locales is problematic because elite varieties are sensitive to daylength and will not flower until late summer, leaving insufficient time for buds to mature before cold/rainy weather arrives. So-called autoflowering lines that do not require a change in daylength to flower can be grown in BC, but they have poorer flower quality in terms of firmness and cannabinoid content.
To address this challenge, Dr. Marco Todesco from the University of British Columbia and Jose Celedon from Aurora Cannabis are working together to develop high-quality outdoor varieties by characterizing the autoflower gene in hemp (a variety of cannabis that does not produce the narcotic compound THC) and moving the hemp autoflower trait into elite cannabis lines.
The team will use genomics technologies to determine where the autoflower trait occurs in the genome, and characterize its effects on plant growth, productivity, and quality. Molecular markers will be used to introduce the autoflower trait into cannabis through marker-assisted breeding. The successful completion of this project will enable outdoor cannabis production in BC and other high-latitude locations globally. This will lead to a large reduction in emissions from cannabis production, while also lowering the cost of cannabis production, and making BC-grown cannabis more competitive globally.