This past weekend, we celebrated National Monarch Day!
The Monarch Butterfly is an important pollinator for corn farmers and one whose numbers are dwindling. The problem? Monarchs need milkweed to complete their life cycle and modern herbicides are making milkweed very hard to find.
The solution? Plant milkweed! Farmers are working to keep milkweed in roadside ditches and waterways, pastures and creek beds, and even planting pollinator gardens around their homes.
Chris Novak, Chief Executive Officer of the National Corn Growers Association, told Prairie Farmer that he understands farmers’ reluctance to embrace milkweed.
“When I was a kid, I hated pulling milkweeds the most, and we knew at the time it was a noxious weed. We watched the thousands of seeds that came from a milkweed pod,” Novak says. “At that point, we weren’t thinking about monarch butterflies!”
But he says as science has improved, agriculture has taken a closer look at habitat for wildlife and recognized that people need to take steps to help. Currently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering a petition to list the monarch as a threatened or endangered species and plans to deliver a decision in June 2019.
“The farmers I work with are independent folks, and if they can get to the point where they don’t have government regulations coming down on them, they certainly prefer that,” Novak says.
He calls monarch habitat protection a “new part of the system farmers have to manage.” He and the rest of the Farmers for Monarchs coalition want to encourage farmers to take areas that aren’t part of productive working lands — fencerows, ditches, pivot corners — and plant habitats there.
“That’s at the heart of this effort,” Novak explains. “What we do first and foremost voluntarily gives us an opportunity to experiment and find what works best.”