Turning Iowa farmland into butterfly, bee habitat

August 3, 2016

By Donnelle Eller

Depleted monarch butterflies and honeybees could get a boost from Iowa farmers over the next few years, thanks in part to lower commodity prices that have prompted landowners to shift more than 100,000 acres of row crops into habitat for creatures vital to pollination.

Over the past four years, Iowa farmers have enrolled 127,005 acres in a federal conservation reserve program designed to sustain butterflies, bees, wasps, birds and bats — with all but 15,000 acres being added in the past year, according to the Iowa Farm Service Agency.

In fact, Iowa has about 40 percent of the nation's total acres of pollinator habitat, the agency said. The federal contracts require the land to be set aside for habitat for 10 or 15 years, with penalties for ending them sooner.

Part of Iowa's adoption comes from a big state and national habitat push.

Monarch and bee populations have dropped dramatically nationwide, in part because of the loss of native prairies and meadows they need for food and reproduction. Parasites and pesticides also contribute to losses, scientists say.

Monarch populations in central Mexico had rebounded last winter, but a spring ice and snow storm destroyed about three-fourths of the insects before they could begin migrating... Read more