Canola is the main crop for honey production in Western Canada. Wherever you find canola, you’ll find honeybees.
“Bees tend to do very well on canola. The crop has profuse blooms and nutritious pollen high in protein as well as fat, and with all the amino acids bees need to complete their lifecycle,” says Shelley Hoover, an apiculture research scientist with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development. “Bees can produce quite a good honey crop off of canola.”
Hoover along with beekeepers and canola growers are featured in a new series of videos produced by the Canola Council of Canada (CCC) with cooperation from the Canadian Honey Council. The videos are posted at www.youtube.com/canolacouncil. One video, titled “Canola and Bees — A Sweet Relationship,” describes how beekeepers and canola producers benefit from each other.
“Honey producers are not the only ones who gain from this relationship. Canola growers also know it is in their own best interest to protect bees,” says Gregory Sekulic, agronomy specialist with the Canola Council of Canada (CCC). “Bees and other pollinators are needed for production of quality hybrid seed – a vital component of the industry. And research suggests that pollination by bees may also encourage higher canola yields by increasing the number of pods per plant and seeds per pod.”
Statistics Canada data show that the number of honeybees in Canada has reached near-record levels in the past decade, with more than 700,000 colonies Canada-wide in 2012, up from 600,000 in 2000. More than 70 percent of these colonies are in Western Canada.
Lorne Peters and his brother run Peters Honey Farm near Kleefeld, Manitoba. “Our bees have a few crop options in our area, but canola is the most common flowering crop and the bees seem to do well on canola,” Peters says.
“Our honey season is intense — it only lasts as long as the crops are flowering,” he says. “We have long-standing relationships with many of the canola growers around us, and we try to work with them as close as possible so we can keep our bees safe during this short flowering period and so they can protect their crops when necessary.”
The CCC promotes the following insect management practices that take bee health into account:
1. Avoid spraying insecticide on flowering canola. Bees are actively working the crop when it is flowering, and canola growers are urged to avoid spraying for insects during this time.
2. Use economic thresholds when making control decisions. This ensures that growers only spray when it is economically beneficial to do so. A few pests in the crop is normal, and control should never be enacted unless the damage exceeds the cost of control.
3. Use an insecticide that is registered for the targeted pest, and choose the product with lower toxicity to beneficial insects.
4. Take measures to minimize drift. Constantly monitor wind speed and direction, leave a buffer area (50 metres) from beehives, and use drift reducing nozzles.
5. If economically necessary to apply products to flowering canola, apply after 8:00 p.m. until dusk or at night when bees aren’t actively foraging. Stop spraying in the morning when temperatures approach 15°C.
6. Maintain a dialogue with beekeepers. Knowing where beehives are, when safe times to apply products occur, and who will be there can go a long way to mitigating any potential problems. The beekeeper may be able to move bees during spraying, or cover the hives.
“We also encourage beekeepers to report pesticide damage when it happens,” Sekulic says. “With an accurate log of pesticide damage — including the timing, location and product used — beekeepers, the canola industry and regulatory bodies have accurate data to use when making decisions.”