Canola growers working to reduce honeybee winterkill

CNS Canada — The number of Prairie canola acres makes the region a great place for honeybees to thrive — but given increasing winterkill rates, canola growers must make sure they take the precautions needed to maintain that relationship.

“It’s a very mutually beneficial relationship,” said Gregory Sekulic, an agronomy specialist with the Canola Council of Canada at Grande Prairie, Alta. “Not to say that it’s without its challenges, but in broad strokes it is a very positive relationship for bees and canola.”

Bees thrive off canola, he said, because it’s a very high nectar-producing crop and its pollen is very high in fat with the right amino acid balance for bees to complete their life cycles. There are also billions of flowers per acre, giving honeybees lots of room to pollinate.

This past winter, the winterkill rate for Canadian honeybees was at 25 per cent, according to the annual report from the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists. This rate was down from last year’s 28.6 per cent, but still a high average overall.

Ontario saw the most loss this year, with a winterkill rate of 58 per cent. Alberta, whose honeybees makes up about half of Canada’s honeybee population, according to Sekulic, had a winterkill rate of 18.5 per cent.

Canola producers and beekeepers need to maintain good communication in order to keep a healthy relationship between the crop and the insect, he said. Prairie canola crops provide about 20 million acres of honeybee habitat.

“We want to continue this very positive relationship because our industry is almost entirely dependent on honeybee pollination as it stands,” said Sekulic.

Threshold data

The bulk of Canadian-grown canola is in hybrid varieties, he said, and “all of the hybrid systems are facilitated by honeybee pollination or leafcutter bee pollination. We do have a very invested interest in keeping healthy populations in a positive feedback loop.”

Canola growers need to be aware of the honeybee populations around their crops, he said.

“Honeybees can range for forage for two to three miles,” said Sekulic. “Even if you don’t have any hives physically in your field, there are most likely some within two or three miles of it somewhere so bees will be in that field during the day.”

In terms of their insect management practices, farmers must be sure to do insecticide applications either after 8 p.m. or early in the morning before the temperature reaches 15 C, prior to when bees begin to forage.

“We want to make sure that guys are first and foremost doing it with economic threshold data in mind,” said Sekulic.

— Marney Blunt writes for Commodity News Service Canada, a Winnipeg company specializing in grain and commodity market reporting.

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