As the Industrial Hemp Revolution sweeps the country, farmers and lawmakers aren’t the only ones excited by hemp. A recent study suggests that hemp crops also lure a variety of bees - providing more information necessary to create ecologically sustainable agricultural practices.
This groundbreaking study was published earlier this year in a journal titled, “Biomass and Bioenergy,” and was conducted at Colorado State University. Researchers methodically placed 10 traps in several industrial hemp fields scattered throughout northern Colorado, collecting bees during a precise five day window in the midst of peak flowering season.
It was observed that only a small number of other crops pollinated in that region during the same period of time, allowing the research team to monitor if the non-psychoactive cannabis plants could provide “a potentially valuable source of pollen for foraging bees.” The team added that bees are critical in maintaining “sustainable productivity in natural and agricultural ecosystems.”
What researchers discovered startled them, finding nearly 2,000 bees including 23 different species of bees. The primary species (38 percent of the total collected) were classic honeybees, however “specialized genera” such as Melissodes bimaculata and Peponapis pruinosa which appeared in “surprisingly high proportions.”
The benefits of hemp go even further when it comes to attracting the bees. The samples derived from the hemp fields were more abundant in volume and diversity compared to similar tests conducted using genetically modified canola flowers, which resulted in much smaller numbers and diversity in bee species collected.
Ecologists have attempted to address the dwindling bee population for quite some time, meaning the timing of the study was also crucial. These researchers described that bees “continue to face debilitating challenges due to a number of different stressors … chief among them is the overall health of their respective habitats.”
Locating suitable alternative sources of pollinating crops is vital for the survival of many bee species, and their respective ecosystems. The research team concluded that, “[industrial hemp] can thus be an ecologically valuable crop whose flowers are attractive to managed honey bees and a wide range of wild bees … in addition, access to crucial phytochemical through pollen and nectar from diverse plant sources is important for the improved survival and pathogen tolerance in honey bees.”
They noted, “Further studies analyzing the nutritive value of hemp pollen, would provide strong evidence in support of the ecological benefits.”
They also included a warning as the expansion of hemp cultivation grips the United States, noting that there are also increased risks of pests infesting hemp crops. Because of this additional invasive threat, the team “strongly urge that the information generated in this study on the diversity and abundance of bees on hemp be used to develop an integrated pest management plan designed to protect pollinators while controlling pests.”