By Michelle Pugle
It’s exciting times for the North American hemp industry.
Growing hemp has been permissible in Canada since the mid-90s, but the prohibition around harvesting and selling its CBD-rich flowers, leaves, and buds has only recently been lifted. Alongside our law change came our southern counterpart’s removal of hemp, its seeds, and derivatives from the Controlled Substances Act. Hemp is now being recognized as a non-psychoactive plant that has exponential profit potential for local farmers and licensed sellers.
With the passing of the Cannabis Act 2018 in Canada and the Hemp Farming Act in 2018 in the United States comes unprecedented opportunity for research that builds on the benefits of hemp agriculture on the environment.
The sections put forth within these acts enable hemp research that is safer and more accessible than before.
Medicine Hat hemp farmer Danny Fieldberg told the Calgary Herald, “Once it gets going, there will be no stopping it.” Fieldberg compared the future of hemp to that of the billion-dollar canola industry.
So is all this growth sustainable? Well, yes. You see, hemp is a fast-growing, low-impact crop that can sequester carbon and root deeply to provide run-off and soil erosion protection. It’s pest-tolerant and hardy in our prairie provinces.
Hemp’s environmental benefits don’t begin and end there, though.
Recently, scientists have documented how hemp fields can help ‘stressed’ bee populations by providing a late-season source of pollen. In Colorado alone, 23 out of the 66 local bee species ranging from fuzzy bumblebees to greenish sweat bees were identified in a month-long trapping survey.
This could suggest that some bee species are naturally attracted to the hemp plant, a claim so many other websites have run with, but experts disagree.
Beekeeper and Writer Sharon Schmidt from Bee Culture Magazine argues that bees aren’t as attracted to the Cannabis plant as they are to others. Why? Some say it’s because hemp plants lack the bright colourings and distinct aroma bees are looking for.
In other words, hemp isn’t a bee’s first choice for feasting, but during late-season food droughts, it becomes a saving grace for hungry hives. Outdoor industrial hemp agriculture can offer a plethora of pollen that would otherwise be missed.
Maximizing Hemp’s Benefit to Local Bees
It’s hard times out there for all bees, but we still need to be strategic with how we help.
Outdoor industrial and wild hemp fields can provide late-season access to pollen for beneficial pollinators, but one study suggests the lack of nectar poses a problem for winter reserve honey production for honeybees.
Planting hemp alongside other flowering plant species increases the ecosystem’s biodiversity. This increases access to various food sources and better models the bees’ wild habitat, much of which has been lost to development.
Incorporating hemp plants into our pollinator-friendly gardens at home can be yet another way to support our local bees.
If you’re growing hemp at home, try adding pollinator-friendly varieties like Black-Eyed Susans, Milkweed, Bee Balms, and fruit trees into your gardenscape, and stay away from commercial pesticides that can do more damage than they’re worth.
Remember, even if you’re not eating these plants, your local bees and could be harmed by your pesticide use. Stick with organic methods of gardening to ensure bee safety and ecosystem health.