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The Pollinator Connection: Hemp offers little to pollinators

By Kristina Lefever for the Tidings July 30, 2019 ~

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the hemp fields that are taking over Southern Oregon. With almost 13,000 acres planted in hemp in Jackson and Josephine Counties alone, people are noticing. Not only the number of acres — but the plastic! (some organic vegetable growers also use plastic).

I appreciate the concerns expressed by our Jackson County Extension office ( and the opportunities for conversation offered by the Rogue Valley Food Network System regarding this new mono-crop and the challenges it brings regarding land and water use and, yes, plastic.

I’d like to add another concern — there isn’t anything else other than hemp in these fields. Remember “fence row to fence row?” It’s back again. For a fascinating review of how this Nixon-era policy caused the economic crisis of the ’80s, read this article from The Grist. (

How are these acres supporting pollinating insects that are so important for your survival and mine? Hemp is a wind-pollinated crop, and is not usually allowed to flower, so it offers little in terms of sustenance for bees and butterflies.

Native/wild bees, honey bees and hoverflies are the primary pollinators of our food crops, and yes, we still grow food in our Valley! What would our Valley look like without the native/wild bees, butterflies, beetles, hummingbirds, and wasps that pollinate our native trees and bushes? Not only does hemp not provide nutrition for pollinators, little else is growing in many of these fields. Consider the habitat (trees, shrubs, ground nests, native plants, weeds, etc.) that disappeared when these fields were planted.

There are better ways to grow. For instance, the family farm OM Extracts grows hemp among other crops in a polyculture system that supports a biodiversity of plants, insects and other wildlife. The companion plants growing alongside the hemp plants deter the pest insects while attracting pollinators and predatory insects.

The Bee Better Certified program recently created by The Xerces Society and Oregon Tilth requires a minimum of 5% of land to be set aside for pollinators. I think the minimum should be 10%! Pollinator habitat includes hedgerows, in-field strips of blooming cover crops, trees, and wildflower areas. If you are a grower (of any crop), a retailer, or a consumer, find out more at (Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) has grants available to growers interested in supporting pollinators.)

Please support local farmers — of any crop — who are looking out for the land and the pollinators! Why not ask them about their pollinator-friendly practices?

I’m sure you’ve heard by now about the studies that tell us insects and insect species are declining at a terrifying rate, especially bees, butterflies, and dung beetle. Not surprisingly, the four main reasons are agriculture/development, pesticides, climate change, and invasives. But you don’t have to be a scientist to notice the reduced number of butterflies this summer, not to mention monarchs.

And it’s not just insects to worry about — globally, native plants are disappearing faster than any other species! And when a native plant species disappears, so too do the pollinators associated with that plant. Please incorporate native plants into your pollinator garden/landscape — remember that many butterfly and moth caterpillars only eat certain plants!

Speaking of natives, Pollinator Project of Rogue Valley is thrilled to be a recipient of a grant from Ashland Food Co-op to create a pollinator-friendly landscape and garden at our office in Phoenix! We will be planting native species in the frontscape that do not require irrigation. Including native poppies, which provide such an important pollen (protein) source for native bees. Stay tuned for more information about work parties. If you are interested in helping, please let me know!

Good news! Several western bumblebees were found on Mount Ashland! Once very common in this area, westerns have been seen only rarely in the past 5 years or so - there have been several years where not one was found during official bumblebee surveys. This month, one was located during a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services-led Bumble Bee Blitz, and another during a PNW Bumblebee Atlas survey conducted by the Xerxes Society. I was happy to be present when Rich Hatfield of Xerces netted a lovely western female!

Did you enjoy Bee City USA Ashland’s third annual Pollinator Garden Tour? Held on June 29 and 30, it was a real success! Over 175 people purchased a tour booklet and visited the 15 gardens on the tour. Thank you to Ashland Chamber for their support, the 15 gardeners, and the 7 businesses who participated!

Live on a county road? Unless you are on their No Spray list, Jackson County Roads is probably spraying herbicides like glyphosate along your road frontage. (See its website Stay tuned for how you can get involved.

Finally, please consider the information shared by bee conservation researcher Lynn Dicks during her keynote at the fourth International Pollinator Conference. Recognizing “The Importance of People in Pollinator Conservation”, her advice to farmers, people, and governments are outlined here. (

Bottom line: Plant a (pesticide-free) landscape — Everywhere!

Kristina Lefever is a member of Pollinator Project Rogue Valley, Bee City USA Ashland, and a board member of Beyond Toxics. The Pollinator Connection appears quarterly.


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