Improving canola breeding with bees

(Note: The following article is a slightly edited transcript of a short K-State Research and Extension YouTube video produced by Dan Donnert, KSRE videographer. The link to this video is:  – Steve Watson, Agronomy eUpdate Editor)


Canola makes an excellent source of food for all kinds of bees. When canola is blooming, honeybees will often be brought out of the almond orchards in California to canola fields in Oklahoma and Kansas. The reason is that canola is an excellent food source. The nectar is high in sugars and the pollen provides an excellent protein source.

Canola is a crop that does not need bees to produce seed. But bees are very beneficial to canola and canola is very beneficial to bees. We often see when we introduce canola to bees that hive weights improve and the general health of bees improves.


What you see in the photo above is an example of a public-private partnership that we have with Monsanto where we are developing experimental winter canola hybrids. The reason we are using tents and bees to produce experimental hybrids as to move the pollen from the male plant to the female plant. We have to keep the bees in cages so we don’t get contamination from other bees with pollen from other plants.

A canola variety that a producer would plant in his field does not need bees to pollinate it because canola is a self-pollinating crop. However, when we make these test crosses between the male fertile and the male sterile, we need bees to carry pollen from the male fertile plant to the male sterile plant to produce seed that is fertile so that the producer could plant it in the field.

We’re doing this research with Monsanto to see if we can produce experimental hybrids. Then, as we move forward with the public-private relationship with Monsanto, we may someday be able to develop Roundup Ready hybrids this way for Monsanto to test in our southern Great Plains environment to see if those cultivars could then be grown by producers in the southern Great Plains.


Mike Stamm, Canola Breeder