Hemp could help save the bees, providing an excellent source of nutrition during the season they need it most, new study finds
Expanding hemp cultivation in the United States could provide food for the bees during a time of year when few other options are available to them, a new study concludes.
Researchers from Colorado State University set up bee traps in industrial hemp fields during peak flowering season to determine whether hemp was “a valuable source of pollen for foraging bees.”
Turns out it is.
The researchers collected almost 2,000 bees from 23 different bee genera.
Nearly half of those were classic honeybees, but specialized genera such as Melissodes bimaculata and Peponapis pruinosa turned up in surprisingly “high proportions.”
Hemp flowers are apparently “prolific pollen producers,” making them attractive to a diverse abundance bees.
On top of that, they bloom right when bees need them most.
Hemp flowering occurs between the end of July and the end of September, a time when other pollinator-friendly crop plants are scarce across the “heartland” of the United States.
“Industrial hemp can play an important role in providing sustained nutritional options for bees during the cropping season,” writes lead author of the study Colton O’Brien, a soil and crop scientist for Colorado State University.
In addition to food, hemp provides habitat.
While pollinators “face debilitating challenges from a number of different stressors,” lack of healthy habitat is chief among them, the researchers note.
On a continent where much of the acreage is dedicated to non-pollen producing mono-crops covered in bee-harming insecticides, introducing more pollinating crops is critical to the survival of bees and the ecosystems they occupy.
The researchers note that previous reports looking at crops like genetically modified canola flowers didn’t produce the same volume or variety of bees.
Fortunately, the 2018 Farm Bill, passed in December legalized hemp production in the United States. 80,000 acres are already under cultivation, with permits for another 15,000 acres awaiting approval.