Front Range Biosciences, a Colorado-based agricultural biotech company, has partnered with Rylie’s Sunshine, a Delaware-based CBD tincture company operated by 14-year-old activist Rylie Maedler and her mother, Janie, for the latest in a series of hemp field trials to determine which hemp varieties perform best in certain regions of the country.
“At the highest level, it’s really a way for us to support what we think is a really exciting and worthwhile cause for the industry,” Front Range Biosciences CEO Dr. Jon Vaught told Cannabis Business Times and Hemp Grower. “It’s about advancing the science and developing a better understanding of … cannabinoids and how they can hopefully have a positive impact on … people who are struggling with some really challenging health issues.”
When Rylie was seven years old, she was diagnosed with aggressive bone tumors and epilepsy, which were both eventually controlled through the use of cannabis. Upon being released from the hospital, Rylie worried about the other children suffering from similar illnesses, who did not have the same access to cannabis-based medicine.
“I decided to start the Rylie’s Smile Foundation to educate families about cannabis and to pass laws to make cannabis more accessible,” Rylie told Cannabis Business Times and Hemp Grower.
Then, Rylie started receiving messages from families saying that their children were suffering negative side effects from cannabis. Lab testing determined that many of the products were contaminated with harmful ingredients, which inspired Rylie to launch Rylie’s Sunshine to produce safe medication for families like hers.
Now, the company operates 25 acres of hemp cultivation space in Birdsnest, Va., and Front Range Biosciences has provided the farm with CBD- and CBG-rich hemp varieties to determine which cultivars grow best in the Mid-Atlantic region.
“This is a young child … that fought off a really nasty form of cancer and then decided to really try and find a way to help other kids that are fighting similar fights,” Vaught said. “I think that’s just about as good as it gets in terms of worthy causes to support and donate to.”
Front Range Biosciences has field trial sites in strategic regions all over the country, from California to Pennsylvania to Florida, and is collecting data on the different plant varieties in various soil types and microclimates, with different growing practices, to better understand how plants grow in various environments. The ultimate goal, Vaught said, is to support farmers in different regions and help them introduce hemp into their crop rotations.
“Front Range will [teach] us … how to best grow these plants in our region and on our farm, so our medicine can reach its full potential,” Rylie said. “With this, we will learn how well CBG and CBD hemp plants can grow in that region and how well they can adapt. … It will also improve our understanding of how different cannabinoids and terpenes are affected by the Mid-Atlantic region and it will inform us for the growing season so we can provide the best oil possible.”
The varieties were planted July 2, and Rylie and her team will record how the plants are growing until they are harvested this fall. Members of the Front Range Biosciences staff will also visit the farm regularly to monitor the crop’s progress. In particular, the company will measure the plants’ cannabinoid profiles and potency to understand how different varieties perform against the 0.3% THC compliance standard.
“That’s honestly a challenging thing,” Vaught said. “If you want a hemp crop that’s going to produce a lot of CBD or some of these cannabinoids and terpenes that people value in the marketplace, the plant’s biology, unfortunately, has to produce some THC, too. So, it’s challenging and, in some ways, it’s an arbitrary limit at 0.3%, but it is what’s been set as the standard right now, so … [knowing] when to harvest plants … to stay compliant is critical.”
Front Range Biosciences will monitor the total yield of various cannabinoids that drive the value of the crop, such as CBD and CBG. It will also analyze soil type, conducting chemistry and microbiology tests on the soil to see how its makeup impacts plant growth and performance.
“We’re also collecting weather data to understand temperature, humidity [and] rainfall,” Vaught said. “Through a partnership with another company, we incorporate some drone flyover data, so we’re collecting data from drones over the fields, as well.”
Rylie’s Sunshine will send each variety for testing as the plants are harvested to assess cannabinoid and terpene content, as well, and a percentage of the products produced from the plants will then be donated to the Rylie’s Smile Foundation to distribute to families and children in need.
“We have to wait until we see what the harvest gives us before we can find out what that percentage will be, … but the nonprofit will thankfully be able to donate product, and that’s what makes Front Range and the nonprofit so happy about this,” Janie said.
“We can help a lot of people with this collaboration,” Rylie added.
Rylie’s story, including the farm’s work with Front Range Biosciences, will be chronicled in an upcoming film, CBD Nation, which will be released on iTunes and Amazon Aug. 25.
For Vaught and his team, hemp is still a nascent industry, and breeding is a multi-year process, meaning that it will take multiple seasons to compile robust data through the field trials.
“For the industry as a whole, it’s very early in terms of breeding for different regions, so right now, we’re really trying to survey a wide variety of different plants in each of these different sites so that we can identify some real winners for certain regions,” he said. “We’ve got a few that have already been through a couple seasons that we know perform better or worse in certain environments, so there’s been some targeting, but right now, we’re trying to cast the net as wide as we possibly can to determine how each of those traits perform in different regions.”
The overall goal of Front Range Biosciences field trials, Vaught said, is to allow farmers in different regions of the country to grow hemp effectively and profitably, for many different end uses.
“It’s really about creating access and opportunity for some of the other farming communities throughout the U.S.,” he said. “I think it’s going to expand beyond that, too. I think there are other areas around the world where we’ll be able to grow this crop as the crop grows in popularity and more and more ingredients become viable products derived from hemp. Right now, the focus is certainly on CBD, but there are other cannabinoids and hemp extracts and oils, [and] also things like protein, grain and even fiber for industrial purposes. I think different areas around the world and around this country will be positioned well to grow this crop for some of these different industry sectors. One area might be good to grow for one industry segment, where another might be good for another side of the industry, like cannabinoid versus fiber ingredients.”
And the Rylie’s Sunshine field trial site has set itself apart with its greater purpose of supporting families in need, Vaught added.
“We feel really honored to be able to work with her and her team,” he said. “It’s just super inspiring to see somebody that’s overcome so much and is really out there fighting a good fight for other people. … We’re really happy to support it in every way we can, and we’re trying to make sure that they have a successful crop this year and they can continue with their mission."