Saturday, October 15, 2011

Soybeans and Honey

The soybean is an important honey plant, but not all soybean varieties produce enough nectar to produce a surplus of honey. A beekeeper asked me which varieties of soybeans are the best sources of nectar for making honey. I wish that I could answer this clearly, but I can’t. To try to get some answers, I visited an agricultural research facility where soybean varieties are being developed and tested. Discussing soybean variety characteristics with a researcher, I learned that the amount of nectar offered by a soybean variety is of importance to beekeepers; but it is not a trait that is selected in developing soybeans. The traits that are important to soybean growers include yield, nutrition, and tolerance to pests, disease, and drought. Seed producers also divide soybean varieties according to planting, bloom, and harvest times. Soybeans in any location often include both early and late season varieties. Planting different fields with different varieties helps the farmer spread out the harvest. This benefits honey producers with bee hives near the soybean fields by extending the bloom period, often by several weeks.

I also spoke with several Arkansas beekeepers this week. We discussed honey production around soybean fields. Their thoughts regarding soybeans as important honey plants involved the location and soil type of the fields. For example, beekeepers on the west side of Arkansas’ White River make little honey from soybeans, while beekeepers on the east side of the river make a considerable amount of soybean honey. Soybeans grown on land close to the Mississippi River generally produce considerable amounts of nectar. New soybean varieties are being developed, like one being grown this year for use with new herbicides. Repeated use of a single herbicide led to resistance in crop weeds. Regardless which varieties are planted, honey bees can usually fly far enough to find one that is attractive, even if they have to fly over soybeans offering less reward. Beekeepers can’t simply list good soybean varieties. Today’s photo: harvesting soybeans.

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