Hemp may be an unexpected hero when it comes to saving declining bee populations. A recent study, believed to be the first of its kind in cannabis fields, has found the pollinators love the so-called wonder crop!
The timing couldn’t be better; the 2018 Farm Bill has opened the door to commercial hemp farming in the U.S., where since 2006, beekeepers have reported honeybee colony loss rates averaging 30% each winter.
Researchers at Colorado State University conducted a one-month trapping survey in two industrial hemp plots and captured 23 out of the 66 kinds of bees known to the area.
There were 2,000 of them in total, most of which (38%) were honeybees. But the more rare Melissodes bimaculata and Peponapis pruinosa were also present in high numbers.
So, what brought them to the fields?
The study’s authors say hemp crops grown for seed and fiber produce massive amounts of pollen, especially those with male flowers. This is critical for honeybees, bumblebees, and many others looking to feed their young.
In other words, honey will not be made through hemp plants, but bees will use the nectar as a source of protein, fats, and minerals for their larvae.
Another attractor is that hemp flowers late, in mid to late summer, when bee populations are typically stressed and have few food options available to them.
Attracting bees is just another feather in the hemp plant’s cap.
Already one of the most sustainable plants to grow, hemp has been found to improve soil health through a process called phytoremediation. It’s highly pest-resistant and drought-tolerant, it grows quickly, and it has thousands of different uses.
There is a problem, though.
While hemp crops have so far proven not to need any chemicals to keep pests at bay, the expansion of cultivation is likely to draw problems to the fields.
Experts predict pest control measures will eventually be needed, although it’s still not clear which insects pose a threat to hemp. Lead researchers in this study are asking developers to create bug management techniques that keep the health of the bees in mind.
Because buzzing hemp fields should be music to everyone’s ears.
Featured image courtesy of Evo Hemp.