Bee Pollen Identification for Increased Sustainability

Progress report for FS19-313

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2019: $9,938.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2022
Grant Recipient: Farmer
Region: Southern
State: North Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Ryan Higgs
Blue Ridge Apiaries
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Project Information


This project seeks to reconcile the juxtaposition of two experiences that I have had in my beekeeping career:


I met a beekeeper many years ago who made his living by selling bee pollen to a pharmaceutical company who was owned by a family that I knew well.  The pollen being sold had to be 95% pure to the designated source to pass quality control.  My friend that performed quality control for the pharmaceutical company shared that this beekeeper's pollen never failed their purity standards.  This beekeeper, who has since passed away, is a folk legend in our corner of Appalachia.  As such, accounts of how he accomplished this without any formal education or training is often anecdotal rather than scientific.


Much of my work as a commercial beekeeper has been focused on nutrition.  Beekeepers have long enjoyed a range of options for supplementing carbohydrates in their colonies when resources are scarce, but the same cannot be said for protein.  Pollen supplements until relatively recently were not commercially available and widely regarded to be inferior to natural pollen.  Even with the improvements that have been made, pollen substitutes are expensive, involve a labor input to apply, exasperate hive beetle-related problems, and are still thought to be inferior to natural pollen.  Accordingly, I have long be interested in better understanding the pollens that are coming into our colonies.  This interest led me to the late Dr. Vaughn Bryant at Texas A&M University who was widely regarded as the leading pollen identification expert in the land-grant university realm.  

Project Objectives:

The objective of this project was to determine if pollen analysis was achievable in-house.  The motivation to do so would include the benefits of improving our colonies' access to nutrition as well as the possibility of creating an additional revenue stream by selling bee pollen to pharmaceutical companies.

The likelihood of achieving this objective was in sharp contrast depending on who I was consulting.  On the local level, the pharmaceutical company was optimistic and referenced the before mentioned beekeeper with no formal education as an example; meanwhile, Dr. Bryant argued that acheiving a standard of 95% purity was not possible without a commercial lab such as the one that he operated at Texas A&M.



Materials and methods:

Bee Pollen was collected from a number of colonies as outlined in our Proposal.  These 29 samples were each divided in two identical groups.  One set of samples was sent off to be processed into slides by a private lab in Canada recommended by Louisiana State University who then used the slides to identify the pollens in the sample in their lab.  The second set of identical samples was used in-house to prepare slides per a protocol used by the local pharmaceutical company.  These slides were then analyzed using the same equipment use by the pharmaceutical company to identify the various pollens.

Research results and discussion:

At this point in our project the data has been collected, but not completely analyzed.  This is an annual progress report.

Participation Summary
1 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

Our project's outreach was dealt a double blow: first by Covid, that eliminated the in-person events that we had hoped to share our findings, and second with the passing of Dr. Vaughn Bryant.  Dr. Bryant was regarded as the foremost figure in the realm of pollen identification.  It was an honor to have had the opportunity to work with him on the front-end of our project. It should be noted that it would not have been possible to complete our project without the help of his friend and colleague, Dr. Sophie Warny at LSU.


No participants
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.