What started as a quality-control method for producing cannabis could soon become a game-changer for coffee cultivation. The new method is called 'clean stock' technology - a plant-cloning process that prevents contamination and produces crops with predictable yields, according to the creators of the process at Front Range Biosciences.
“It's really like a manufacturing process for plants. You don't have to deal with pests, so you don't have to use pesticides. You control your environment,” Front Range Biosciences' CEO, Jon Vaught told WIRED.
A Santa Barbara-based coffee grower called Frinj Coffee was the first non-cannabis based producer to make use of the new method.
Frinj CEO Jay Ruskey says he's not so much worried about protecting crops from potential plant diseases as much as he wants to safeguard their genetics. In a traditional coffee farm this is hard to accomplish. “You get a certain tree of a certain variety, but there's a 5 to 15 percent chance that there was some wind pollination from other trees, or some cross pollination, and so that seed stock has this ability to begin to naturally hybridize,” Ruskey says.
But with lab grown plants there is no uninitiated hybridization, so each tree would produce a predictable yield.
There are potential downsides to this process though. When all of the plants are comprised of the same genetic makeup, any disease that affects one tree will affect them all. In a traditional farm, some plants would develop immunities to protect themselves from the disease, but with the lab-grown plants there is the potential for the whole crop to fail.
“That's the tradeoff you get,” says Vaught. “There is some risk associated with just having lots of the same one, but at the same time it's worth it. We can keep tens, hundreds, thousands of unique varieties safe and sound, so that if you did have something that got wiped out, you could go back and deploy it.”
The technologies developed by Front Range Biosciences have potential application beyond just weed and coffee. “The emergence of a new high value crop like cannabis opens opportunities for innovation and improvement,” says Vaught.
Technologies like theirs could open-up a whole new wave of high-quality, high-yield crops grown in the continental USA. That could be a game-changer for the entire agricultural industry.