Bees Busy Pollinating Hemp Crops

By Maryanna Savage Phinn

Could Hemp Help Stabilize the Decline of Bee Population?

The bees are getting busy again!

Studies conducted in New York and Colorado have shown promising results that honeybees, bumblebees and numerous native solitary species are buzzing around flowering North American hemp fields especially from late July to the end of September.

This unexpected good news comes at a pivotal time for bee colonies which have experienced a rapid decline over the past decade at a higher than usual rate according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A survey of commercial and backyard beekeepers conducted by the University of Maryland from April 2018-April 2019 cites various factors that are affecting the bee population.  These problems include parasites called varroa mites that spread from colony to colony; exposure to chemical pesticides and herbicides; extreme weather conditions causing wildfires and floods that destroy crops and forage; and dramatic changes in landscapes, natural nesting places and habitats.

Until recently, bees and hemp have never been studied in the United States because hemp was illegal. Hemp farming changed dramatically after Congress passed the Farming Act of 2018 that made industrial hemp legal to grow with a THC level of less than 0.3%. In just a few short years, hemp products have flourished in the marketplace. Doc’s Hemp, for example, offers hemp-derived CBD for horses, CBD for dogs and cats and CBD for humans. Now it seems that flying insects such as bees are benefiting from industrial hemp plants too. 

Although it is a nascent industry, hemp farming has flourished in many states and Puerto Rico. Perhaps hemp farming is Mother Nature’s serendipitous approach to solving the bee problem. An estimated 75% to 95% of Earth’s flowering plants need pollination and bees are major pollinators, especially in the United States. Healthy and abundant crops of fruits, vegetables, nuts, oils and many others are critically dependent on bees.

Hemp is pollinated by the wind. While hemp does not produce nectar, bees are attracted to the pollen in male hemp flowers which provides a significant resource of protein and fat at a time when it is otherwise unavailable from other common crops that bees visit in the spring and early summer. Bees use the pollen to prepare for the winter and to feed new larvae and help boost the colonies’ populations. Hemp crops that are not treated with pesticides may be another added bonus for the bees.

Hemp may be one new critical yet unexpected step in slowing the decline of the bee population.  And that’s something we can all “bee” excited about!

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