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More than Monarchs: Growing Native Plants on Farms

Aug 30, 2021


  • More than Monarchs

Why Monarchs? While monarchs are intrinsically important, conserving monarchs matters for more than just their own protection. We’re exploring the ways that monarch habitat and conservation helps people, other wildlife and the environment in this ‘More than Monarchs?’ series! Join us to learn more.

Birds are the figurative canaries in a coal mine, indicating to us that we’ve created unhealthy changes to our shared environment. According to a study by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology we’ve lost nearly three billion birds in North America since 1970. One of reasons for this decline is habitat loss, such as converting natural areas into agricultural fields or municipal development. When native habitat, including milkweed, is replaced by developments and crops , there is less food and shelter for birds and butterflies.

The National Audubon Society believes that working lands can work for both birds and people. In Arkansas, Audubon is working with farmers to grow a new kind of row crop, one that both creates wildlife habitat and makes money for the farmers. With support from Audubon and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Arkansas farmers are growing native grasses and wildflowers in row crop style production. Audubon provides the starter seed collected from the few remaining prairies left in the state. They train farmers on growing native plants, from preparing the land to harvesting the crop. Their crop is the seed these plants produce each year, which is then sold to Arkansas conservation agencies to restore prairies. Meanwhile, the production plots also provide food and shelter for birds and butterflies on the farm. Audubon and the farmers have enjoyed seeing birds like northern bobwhite running through the grasses, and butterflies like pipevine swallowtails drinking nectar from prairie blazing star. Instead of spraying green milkweeds as she had been doing, she dug some up, potted and propagated them, and sold them to gardeners. She told us "I learned to see these milkweeds groiwng wild in my pasture as profit, not pests." Currently there are about 100 acres under production, and Audubon plans to continue to expand the acreage and diversity of species. Learn more and see more photos at Audubon Arkansas. With 14.5 million acres of farmland in Arkansas, it is crucial to the long-term survival of birds and monarchs that farming practices be adjusted to provide the food and shelter they need.

Growing native plants on farms is just one example of how the work we do for monarchs can make a difference in many ways. What are the co-benefits of monarch conservation that matter most to you? Keep following our “More than Monarchs?” series to hear more stories of what monarchs can do for us, our communities and our world. 


Article contributed by Dan Scheiman, National Audubon Society, for the Monarch Joint Venture Communications Working Group and NAPPC Monarch Taskforce's More than Monarchs Series. Photos by Audubon Arkansas.  The Monarch Joint Venture is a national partnership of federal and state agencies, non-governmental organizations, businesses and academic programs working together to conserve the monarch butterfly migration. The content in this article does not necessarily reflect the positions of all Monarch Joint Venture partners.