Milkweed Planting Encouraged on Iowa CRP Acres to Improve Monarch Habitat
April 30th, 2015
AMES, Iowa — Iowa farmers and landowners are encouraged to consider planting milkweed, the habitat of monarch butterflies, on their land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).
The Iowa office of the USDA Farm Service Agency, which administers the CRP, is putting a new emphasis on planting milkweed on Iowa CRP land. Nearly 1.5 million acres in Iowa currently are enrolled in CRP.
“Establishing milkweed on CRP acres is a great example of conservation in 2 015, the 30th anniversary year of the program,” said John Whitaker, state executive director of the Farm Service Agency in Iowa. “Planting milkweed will expand the environmental benefits provided by CRP, especially as habitat for monarch butterflies.”
The Farm Service Agency’s action on milkweed supports the efforts of the recently announced Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium in increasing habitat for the monarch in the state. The consortium, established by Iowa State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, will take a farmer-led, science-based approach to enhancing monarch butterfly reproduction.
There has been a dramatic decline in monarch butterfly populations in recent decades. Loss of milkweed habitat is key to the decline. Monarchs depend on milkweed plants for laying their eggs and for caterpillar nutrition. As adults, monarchs also rely on other plants for nutrition.
Begun in 1985, the CRP is the largest private-lands conservation program in the nation. Contracts for land enrolled in CRP are 10 to 15 years in length. Participating landowners are paid a yearly rental payment in exchange for removing environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production. They plant resource-conserving plants to improve the quality of water, control soil erosion and enhance wildlife habitat. The type of vegetation varies depending on the site and intended benefits, but common CRP plantings result in grassland, wildlife habitat, wetlands, woodlands, filter strips and other habitats that provide environmental benefits.
Milkweed as part of monarch butterfly habitat can be part of that list. Several milkweed species are native to Iowa. Common milkweed is the most prevalent species in the state and often found growing in roadsides, pastures and agricultural lands. Other species — such as swamp milkweed, whorled milkweed and butterfly weed — typically are found in prairie remnants, wetlands, streambanks or other undisturbed areas.
The Farm Service Agency also has a CRP Pollinator Habitat Initiative that provides landowners the opportunity to establish habitat with a diverse mix of native wildflowers that support honeybees and other native pollinators.