Pork producers planting habitat for monarchs

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My name is Ben Crawford and we're here

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in Hamilton County and my wife and I are

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pork producers here in Hamilton County

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and Hardin County and I graduated from

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Iowa State with my bachelor's in 2007

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and a master's in 2009 and I'm currently

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employed as an Environmental Services

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Director for Prestage farms of Iowa and

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my wife is a technical services

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veterinarian for Merck Animal Health so

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we're both we both work in the swine

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industry. For our contract sites, my wife

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and I have 7,500 finishing spaces we

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have a 2,500 head finishing site in

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Hamilton County and a 5,000 head

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finishing site in Hardin County. I got

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started with this project with the Iowa

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Pork Producers Association because I'm

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on the Environmental Committee there and

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so the project was brought to us so that

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was my first introduction to it. I'll say

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it first there was a little hesitation

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and the project itself, you know, it

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wasn't something we typically see and so

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there was a little hesitation at first

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with it but then once we looked at the

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details more and realized what a benefit

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it could be we decided to go through

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with it and I think it's been a very

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good thing.

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The project itself it was a three year

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project and it took a little time to get

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the plots established but now that the

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plots have established, as you can see

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behind me, I think it adds a lot of

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aesthetic beauty to the sites

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themselves. Another benefit that I see is

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you have less area to maintain and mow

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every week so if there's a big benefit

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for that as well. One thing that I kept

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having to emphasize throughout this

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project was patience because when we

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first started this project I think a lot

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of people in our company and a lot of

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producers in general thought that, okay,

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well we'll spray and kill any

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grass or weeds that are on the plot that

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we're gonna kinda seed to the monarch

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blend and, you know, within a year it's

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gonna be flowers and everything is gonna

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look nice and pretty and and it's gonna

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establish right away. But come to find

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out, it really takes several years to get

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a good plot established and so that's

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one thing I kept preaching to people in

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our company is just have some patience

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with it. So, I know, in year one

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it just kind of looked like a weed patch

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and everyone was, you know, thinking well

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maybe this wasn't such a good idea maybe

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we should tear the thing out and just

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seed it back down to grass. You know, it's

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an eyesore when people drive by so we

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just let it go. Year two looked a little

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better and then now, year three, you can

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really see the benefits of it and the

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patience has paid off, I think. So I think

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the opportunity to scale up some of

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these projects -- I think there's a lot of

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opportunity with that. The biggest thing

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we had to get over when we were first

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establishing these plots is there was a

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lot of concerns from producers that the

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thought this would be a biosecurity

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hazard because of rodents and if you're

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putting some of these tall grass areas

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really close to the barns and you're

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gonna have rats and mice and an extra

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 habitat for those little critters.

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I don't really see much concern with

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that as long as we have the plot set

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back from the barn, at least we have a

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little bit of buffer area. I don't think

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there's a big problem with that and then

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if you're following a regular baiting

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protocol like you would at any site I

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really don't see much concern with it.

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I think there's a lot of benefit just

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because you see all these hog sites

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around the state and there's a lot of

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open area. You know, most of these sites are

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gonna be anywhere from 3 to 5 acres in

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size and most of it is just grass area

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that's being mowed but I think there'd

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be a lot of them that would be

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interested in doing a project like this

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Since 2015, farmers from the Iowa Pork Producers Association have collaborated with researchers from Iowa State University to plant and survey monarch habitat plots on their land. Ben Crawford, Iowa pork producer, describes his three-year experience with the habitat project — and explains why patience was the key to success!