Following the 2018 legalization of industrial hemp in the United States through the Department of Agriculture Farm Bill, new strides are still being made regarding the overall benefits of hemp production on a broad scale. Although there had been widespread calls for the legalization of cannabis growth prior to the bill, much of the controversy surrounding the production of industrial hemp had to do with conflicting opinions regarding cannabis. Despite the fact that hemp is derived from the cannabis plant, industrial hemp itself is not a product similar to medical or recreational marijuana. Nonetheless, many of the arguments surrounding industrial hemp were focused on its effect on human beings. However, it has had a surprisingly positive effect on an entirely different population. Namely, bees.
Cannabis sativa is actually a wind-pollinated plant. This means that it is exclusively pollinated through wind transfer, and as such as a remarkable amount of pollen. Such hemp pollen is therefore available for a variety of different bee species. Bees have actually been found among the hemp flowers of 11 different industrial hemp farms across the New York Finger Lakes. Potentially, it’s been projected that these hemp flowers could support 16 different bee species in total. These bees would primarily be honeybees and secondarily bumblebees.
While industrial hemp can serve many different purposes, this new benefit of aiding bees and their growth is particularly attractive to environmentalists. It is very possible that the hemp pollen produced through the farming of these plants could have long-term effects not merely on the American economy, but on the environment at large. Although the industrial hemp industry remains new within the U.S. and there is much to be determined regarding its effects not only on the bee population but land development and job opportunities, this could be the first of many unexpected benefits of the 2018 Agriculture Farm Bill.
The Bee Crisis Understood
The reason why there is much interest in the benefits of hemp pollen in relation to the bee population is that the bee population has been in a serious decline for an extended period of time. While 1947 saw 6 million beehives across the United States, by 2008 those numbers had declined to 2.4 million hives. There are several factors affecting the bee population in the United States. One of them is the reality that industrial development across the nation has removed some of the growth potential for bees. They do not have as many sites available through which they can develop their normal hives. The combination of habitat decline and winter die-offs has made it difficult for the bee population to keep up with its losses. Another issue to consider is the fact that bees are dependent on certain crops more than others, and if those crops decline there is a natural correlating decline in the bee population.
Bees are also being affected by certain pesticides. As farmers begin using certain pesticides on their crops, bees can be affected by those pesticides. Commercial pest control can be remarkably harmful to bees, affecting their pollen and killing them. There is accordingly a multifaceted problem affecting the world’s bees at large. They both need a decline in pesticides being used on the pollen-producing plants that they rely upon, and they need more crops to harvest pollen from. Hemp pollen, therefore, serves a purpose on multiple levels.
The Growth of Industrial Hemp
The reason why hemp pollen is being made more widely available to bees in need, of course, is the need for industrial hemp production. Industrial hemp is in widespread demand across the United States due to its versatility as a product. It was originally utilized as a commodity fiber crop in the 18th century U.S. until cannabis sativa was made illegal. Due to the association between cannabis sativa and drug possession charges, there was a negative perception of hemp for a long period of time, despite the fact that it contains no more than 0.3 THC. Although the growth of industrial hemp has since been legalized, it remains regulated through the Food and Drug Administration.
Growing best in the Pacific Northwest, hemp has since been placed into four different categories. These include fiber hemp, oilseed hemp, hemp products for medicinal purposes, and hemp products for recreational purposes. Industrial hemp is specifically fiber hemp and oilseed hemp. No matter which of these categories hemp is used for, it will still produce hemp pollen.
As could be assumed, fiber hemp has largely been used to produce textiles since its initial cultivation. Cordage and paper can also be derived from fiber hemp. Eastern European countries, as well as Russia, China, and South Korea have traditionally been major producers of fiber hemp textiles, and they have been exported and imported worldwide. The economic benefits of fiber hemp textiles were in part motivators for industrial hemp production to be legalized in the United States. While cannabis dispensaries are commonly associated with the monetary benefits of industrial hemp production, the international income produced by hemp textile cannot be discounted.
The uses of fiber hemp have superseded textile hemp. Fiber hemp has also been used on a horticultural level. These products have been used as planting materials, as well as biodegradable sustainable mulch. Pressed and molded fiber hemp products have furthermore been used in the auto industry, as have paper and pulp products. Fiber hemp paper products can potentially be used to create a number of different products, including filters, tea bags, and hygiene products. Building construction products like fiberboards can be produced using fiber hemp, as are insulation materials and animal bedding. Recently, plastic biocomposites have been produced using fiber hemp, as have cellulose plastics. Hemp could potentially be a bioenergy crop in the long term as well.
Hemp seeds have long been used as foods. It is important to note that foods that utilize hemp seeds are quite different from the psychoactive edible cannabis products that would require a supplier to have a cannabis dispensary certification. Hemp seed food products include seed flour, seed oil, seed protein, and hemp meal. These products can be incorporated into different recipes.
Just as hemp seeds are food safe, they have also been deemed safe for cosmetic grade materials. Hemp seed oil can be incorporated into cosmetic products and substituted for many industrial oils. It can be used in substitution for olive oil, though it is generally not advised for frying and baking due to the fact that it does not have a long shelf life. It is important to note that hemp oil is a product different from hemp essential oil, which is a mixture containing terpenes.
Fighting Misconceptions Regarding Hemp Products
As previously mentioned, a factor prior to the legalization of industrial hemp production was the misconception surrounding hemp. Understandably, Americans have historically been uncomfortable with the idea of recreational drugs. Currently, many Americans are fighting substance abuse disorders stemming from previously legal prescriptions for painkillers that included opioids. This has led to a need for opioid treatment across the United States. Though it should be noted that cannabis-based products are quite different from products based on opioids, there remains a need to motivate Americans to embrace hemp products.
Due to the fact that hemp can be used to create so many different products, there is a clear financial component to its legalizations. Americans are in constant need of new jobs. From the conversion of hemp into fibers to actual farming of the hemp plants, there are thousands of new jobs being created by the legalization of industrial hemp. But the additional benefit of aiding in the revitalization of the bee population could further enhance hemp’s validity as a net positive for many Americans.
The Correlation Between the Bee Population and Hemp Production
As previously mentioned, hemp pollen is distributed by the wind. This means that it is quite attractive to bees, and hemp farms could indeed become excellent habitats for both honeybees and bumblebees. Furthermore, due to the growing need for industrial hemp, farms producing cannabis sativa for hemp products tend to be fairly expansive. But there are specific types of hemp plants that attract bees more than others, according to a study published in the journal Environmental Entomology.
The study, which was conducted by researchers at Cornell University that focused on bees at 11 different hemp farms, found that bees tend to be drawn to taller plants. In fact, the study indicated that plants that were at least two meters tall attracted 17 times more visits from bees than shorter plants. This same study indicated that hemp was actually uniquely attractive to bees, in a way that wouldn’t normally be expected.
Bees are usually attracted to plants with specific characteristics. These characteristics include bright colors as well as blossoming flowers and strong, pleasant scents. Although cannabis sativa is not an unattractive plant per se, it is not as obviously attractive to bees, which indicates that the key may lie in another aspect like the hemp pollen itself. Hemp flowers produce a larger amount of pollen compared to other flowers. Furthermore, it does so at a time of year in which it would typically be more difficult for bees to find pollen.
Another major factor to consider in terms of what attracts bees to hemp is that there is simply a lack of competition in general. Many of the plants that would naturally attract bees have been replaced with cash crops, many of which are not attractive to bees. Hemp plants offer the ability to plant cash crops while still stimulating the bee population. Thus, the needs of both parties, those of the farmers and those of the bees, are met in the long term.
As clear as it is that the bee population can benefit from hemp plants, this cannot be done effectively if pesticides that harm bees are used on hemp farms. While it’s important that the hemp plants are able to grow freely and without harm, products like ant control pesticides could potentially stunt the bee population further even as they are attracted to hemp pollen. Hemp farmers may consider natural pesticides, which may not be harmful to bees while still protecting the hemp plants.
Furthermore, it is important to note that those interested in hemp products often prefer to buy organic products. Therefore, when advertising products that are made with industrial hemp being able to further emphasize that the hemp was farmed organically, without pesticides, and in conjunction with a rising bee population, would be a potential asset. Many buyers of hemp products do not appreciate pesticide-friendly practices like tree spraying. Though much remains to be seen regarding bees and the degree to which hemp plants can withstand the elements without artificial pesticides remains to be seen. It is important to remember that, as a cash crop, hemp remains a very newly legalized product in the U.S. Some research indicates that hemp is naturally fairly resistant to harmful pests, but it could be years before researchers understand the best way to protect hemp plants against insects and other bugs.
Nonetheless, as the bee population continues to decline on a worldwide level, there is a call for crops that can support the stimulation of hive growth. Hemp is a product with many uses and is undeniably a cash crop. Therefore, it stands to reason for many producers that the connection between bees and hemp is a positive. As hemp is normalized in American society, its benefits for the bee population are significant. Furthermore, the support of hemp products should be emphasized as a means through which people can support the bee population. Therefore, hemp can be more embraced in the general population.
Because hemp is associated with cannabis sativa, some may be surprised by the fact that bees are attracted to hemp pollen and that it could, in the future, be integral to bee population growth. The misconceptions surrounding cannabis sativa and hemp have led many in the general population to associate it more with lawyers and penalties. The clear correlation between bee population growth and hemp could change public perception in time.