Canola provides bees an ideal habitat and efficient means of feeding. Certain farming practices are conducive to the survival of pollinators which benefits both growers and beekeepers.
Honey bee and wild pollinator health numbers are declining due in part to lack of suitable habitat to provide forage and nutrition. The loss of habitat is due to declining wild spaces and increased agricultural activities. According to the U.S. Canola Association (USCA), increasing the acreage of cropland planted annually to canola or sunflowers would have an immediate positive impact on honey bee and wild pollinator health.
Canola provides ideal habitat and food source for honey bees and other pollinators. Canola flowers produce abundant nectar, which has a good sugar profile for honey production. Canola pollen offers pollinators a good nutritional balance of amino acids and protein, plus a plentiful source. Canola allows pollinators to feed efficiently without covering large distances. Canola fields also bloom for relatively long periods, so some fields can provide bees and pollinators with a good source of nectar for up to a month. Sunflowers can also provide late-season supplemental habitat and food source for pollinators. Sunflowers bloom in late summer, providing habitat and forage at a time when fewer plants are blossoming.
Canola is typically self-pollinating, meaning that bees are not required for the plant to set seed. However, the presence of bees can, under some circumstances, prove beneficial. According to the Canola Council of Canada, studies have indicated that bee pollination:
- Encourages higher canola yields with better ripening
- Results in more uniform flowering and earlier pod-setting
- Increases the number of pods per plant, seeds per pod and seed weight
- Reduces the amount of time canola blooms by 17%
- Increases seed weight per plant from 13% to nearly 50%
In addition, bees may help control canola diseases. Researchers are exploring the potential for honey bees to spread beneficial fungi for controlling insects like lygus bugs.
Bees Love Canola, Canola Loves Bees
According to the USCA, canola farmers and beekeepers have a vested interest in cooperating and protecting bees as much as possible. A lot of work has been done in recent years to improve honey bee and pollinator habitat on U.S. farms.
Just this past October, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) released a revised Conservation Stewardship Program titled “Diversify crop rotation with canola or sunflower to provide benefits to pollinators” that provides incentives to producers to include canola or sunflowers in crop rotations. The revised program includes key input from the USCA, National Sunflower Association (NSA) and other stakeholders.
In addition, the USCA, in partnership with the Honey Bee Health Coalition, recently issued ”Best Management Practices for Pollinator Health in Canola Fields” with related materials for growers and beekeepers.
“Canola flowers produce high amounts of nectar and pollen, offering a good sugar profile for honey production and a nutritional balance of proteins and fats,” notes USCA President Rob Rynning. “Canola flowers also allow bees to feed efficiently within reasonable distances for up to a month.”