Understanding the value of a seed collection
Ecofibre is a leading hemp seed breeder and supplier that has achieved global growth through its investment in, and control of, R&D. Ecofibre began collecting cannabis seeds from around the world in 2000.
With the destruction of a US Government-owned collection of cannabis seeds, Ecofibre's informal collection of seeds was suddenly rare and potentially valuable. Using its own resources, Ecofibre kept a sample of each cannabis seed and plant species. The collection needed management and with a team of 8 staff Ecofibre reached out to the Entrepreneurs' Programme in 2015 for expert advice and financial support to undertake a collaborative R&D project with industry experts.
Accessing leading R&D expertise
With support from the program's Innovation Connections service, a PhD student undertook a project to improve the viability of their genebank accessions, that is to sequence, confirm and document the traits of specific seeds. Upon seeing the results, Ecofibre quickly realised that the collection indeed was potentially valuable and so needed to be systematically organised.
Another Innovation Connections project followed with Southern Cross University. It aimed to catalogue the genebank accessions, and to identify the optimal storage conditions to maintain and improve the ability of their seeds to germinate for breeding and R&D. A higher germination rate improves the viability and reliability of the collection. As an outcome from the projects, all seeds are now catalogued and sealed in specialised moisture-normalised packages to extend their life from an estimated 2 to 10 years.
From little seeds big business grows
Today Ecofibre owns potentially the world's largest and most diverse cannabis gene bank – the Ecofibre Global Cannabis Genebank. This unique asset, combined with cropping experience and R&D expertise, enables Ecofibre to grow crops across many latitudes worldwide to support the stability and control of its value chain.
Ecofibre achieved spectacular growth and has launched hemp food, nutraceuticals and fibre businesses that also invest heavily in R&D collaborations. They now employ 160 staff and continue to be supported by Innovation Connections Facilitators Anna Daniel and Dave Fleming from CSIRO SME Connect.
Collaboration with public experts provided clarity on the importance of the misunderstood emerging Australian hemp industry. Ecofibre's genetics are now used by Australian growers, and we are now exporting significant quantities of planting seeds to the United States.
—Dr Omid Ansari, Head of Research, Ecofibre