USDA requests farmers' assistance for monarch repopulation

July 11, 2016

Photo of monarch colony By Dan Mika, Staff Writer

A coalition of researchers from Iowa State University, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other conservation groups are offering farmers across Iowa and the Midwest financial support to help restore the country’s monarch butterfly population.

James Cronin, a USDA biologist, said the monarch population nationwide has gradually declined from about one billion in the late 1990s to approximately 33 million in 2013. That population loss led several conservation groups to petition the Fish and Wildlife Service to give the monarchs protected species status in 2014. A decision on granting that status is pending.

He said the driving force behind the population drop is loss of local habitats and food sources. Butterflies lay their eggs and grow their larvae almost exclusively on milkweed plants, and similar plants provide the nectar adults need to survive. Cronin said overuse of pesticides are killing milkweed, and that many farmers view those plants as intruders in their gardens and farms.

“There was a time people as kids would be sent out to ‘beat the weeds,’ or pull the weeds,” he said.

Sue Blodgett, an entomology professor and a co-chair of ISU’s Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium, said most of the land plots monarch conservationists look for are small pieces of land adjacent to crop fields that, for a multitude of reasons, can’t support or fit extra crops.

IMCC is currently working with approximately 45 growers across the state to determine best practices for planting and maintaining milkweed with other crops or flowers. The group also works with the USDA to provide technical and financial assistance for farmers planting milkweed. Although Story County is part of a key migration route for monarchs flying south for the winter, no farmers in Story County have joined the program since it began in May. Read the full article...