Farmers willing to assist in monarch conservation efforts

May 17, 2016

Logo for Iowa farm and rural life pollAMES, Iowa – With the population of monarch butterflies in North America declining sharply, there is fear that the species’ migration between Mexico and the United State could be in peril. The Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium was created by Iowa State University, farmer and commodity groups, conservation organizations, private companies and state agencies in February 2015 to enhance monarch reproduction in Iowa. 

“Research in progress at Iowa State suggests that small habitat patches ranging from a half-acre to several acres across the Iowa landscape will likely be most effective to support monarch breeding success,” said Steve Bradbury, ISU professor in natural resource ecology and management and a member of the Monarch Consortium’s research team. “So a lot of the Consortium’s focus will be on helping farmers and other landowners to establish or improve monarch habitat.”

The 2015 Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll asked 1,159 farmers about their willingness to consider planting milkweed and other wildflowers to help improve monarch habitat in the state. Forty-two percent responded that they would consider planting or improving monarch habitat on their land. 

“Given that farmers spend a lot of time, energy and money trying to get rid of milkweed and other weeds to protect their crops, I thought that 42 percent was a pretty high number,” said poll co-director J. Gordon Arbuckle, associate professor of sociology and extension sociologist at Iowa State University. “The results indicate that a lot of farmers are interested in helping the monarch population bounce back.”

The 42 percent of farmers who said they would be willing to consider planting monarch habitat were then asked how much land they would be willing to plant using their own money, if they could receive half the cost of planting or if they could receive 100 percent of the cost of planting. Many responded that they did not know how many acres they would be willing to plant. Among farmers who provided an estimate, if using their own money they predicted they would plant an average of 7.3 acres, if receiving 50 percent cost-share they would plant 9.5 acres, and if they could receive 100 percent cost-share they would be willing to plant an average of 13.1 acres of monarch-friendly habitat.

“Those acreage numbers might not sound like very much, but if 42 percent of Iowa’s 89,000 farmers were to plant milkweed and other nectaring wildflowers, that would add up to a substantial amount of monarch habitat,” said Arbuckle. “Also, I think that as the Monarch Conservation Consortium partners ramp up their outreach efforts, we’ll see a lot more farmers and rural landowners willing to help.”

The Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll has been in existence since 1982, surveying Iowa farmers on issues of importance to agricultural stakeholders. It is the longest-running survey of its kind in the nation.