By: Lisette Voytko / Forbes Staff
Topline: A recent study from Colorado State University reports that industrial hemp could help declining bee populations—a source of great ecological concern—because it’s a great source of pollen.
According to researchers, most hemp crops flower between July and September, coinciding with a lack of pollen production from other farm crops.
Over 2,000 bees (and 23 different types of bee, including the European honeybee) were collected during the study. The 23 bee types represent 80% of all types in the region.
This discovery points to hemp as a new pollen source for bees and could help sustain their populations.
Bee colonies have been declining in the U.S. due to stressors such as pests, pesticide exposure and poor nutrition from a lack of pollen, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Isn’t hemp weed? Not this kind. While hemp is a strain of cannabis, the industrial variety is used to create paper, clothing, textiles and biodegradable plastics, among other goods. It’s also important to note that industrial hemp doesn’t produce nectar, meaning bees aren’t making honey from the plants.
Key background: It’s not just bees. Birds, bats, butterflies and hummingbirds are all pollinators, and they’re essential for the lifecycle of crops and other flowering plants. The Obama administration formed a Pollinator Health Task Force in 2014 to reverse the decline in bee population, among other initiatives. And the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported that honeybee hives went from 6 million in the 1940s to about 2.5 million in 2017. Honeybees add $15 billion in yield to crops, according to the USDA.
The Challenge: The study’s authors note that as hemp crops become more widespread, pests will likewise become more common. Which is why the authors call for a plan that will protect pollinators, like bees, and manage pests that could damage the crops.