An infectious pathogen inside California’s pot farms is attacking cannabis plants and growing invisibly for months only to spoil a crop just as a farmer is ready to harvest. Scientists believe that it’s in nearly every pot farm in the state and could be causing billions of dollars in damages to the national weed economy.
Hop-latent viroid, or HLVd, shrivels pot plants and reduce how much weight they produce by as much as 30%. It also destroys the amount of THC, pot’s most common active compound, that a plant produces, greatly reducing the value of affected plants.
HLVd was first documented in cannabis in a pair of scientific studies published in 2019, including a study that confirmed the viroid’s presence in samples from a Santa Barbara pot farm. It’s now infected at least 90% of California’s cannabis grows, according to a 2021 estimate. It’s spreading globally, and a recent scientific paper declared the pathogen was the “biggest concern for cannabis” growers worldwide.
But one Bay Area startup has a new tool that they think will stop the pathogen’s spread in its tracks.
Oakland’s Purple City Labs released a new HLVd test earlier this year that can be conducted on site and deliver results to pot farmers in just a few hours. That’s much faster than the current methods for finding HLVd infections, which are predominantly done by farmers mailing samples to labs and waiting days or even weeks to get a result.
The company said this new at-farm testing could be pivotal in slowing the spread of this global pathogen, as it allows farmers to quickly identify infected plants.
“We didn’t just identify a great test that is accurate, but it’s [also] easy to use and it doesn’t require a high level of expertise,” said Luke Horst, director of business development for Purple City Genetics. “You can take microbiology to the public and put it in their hands. … It’s important for people to have this type of testing.”
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