Bee pollinators continue to face challenges.

Populations are in decline and the worst honeybee hive loss on record happened last winter. Beekeepers reported to the U.S. Department of Agriculture a 40% loss of their colonies over the past year. The cause: debilitating challenges, due to a number of different stressors, but chief among them is the overall health of respective habitats. That’s why beekeepers from all over the country recently attended the Heartland Apiculture Society conference on the Western Kentucky University campus—to figure out ecologically sustainable agriculture practices and keep bees pollinating.

Enter the hemp

A few months prior, a study was published in the journal, Biomass and Bioenergy. Researchers at Colorado State University set up ten traps in northern Colorado hemp fields and collected bees over the course of five days during peak flowering season. The team reported 20 different genera of bees on flowering hemp demonstrating that hemp in the agroecosystem supports pollinators. When the researchers looked more closely at the collection, they found close to 2,000 bees, 38 percent of which were classic honeybees.

Finding a suitable pollinating crop to improve the bees’ habitats is critical to the lives of bees and their ecosystems. Being wind pollinated, hemp plants produce large amounts of pollen that are attractive to bees. Hemp “can thus be an ecologically valuable crop whose flowers are attractive to managed honey bees and a wide range of wild bees,” the researchers concluded.

“In addition, access to crucial phytochemicals through pollen and nectar from diverse plant sources is important for improved survival and pathogen tolerance in honey bees,” the team wrote. “Further studies analyzing the nutritive value of hemp pollen, would provide strong evidence in support of the ecological benefits.”