Monarch Habitat on Farms in the Agricultural Midwest: An update from the field

Our partners working to install demonstration sites in agricultural areas of the Midwest have made great progress this fall! With help from local farmers and their land, our partner experts were able to restore small pieces of habitats within the agricultural matrix of the Midwest and begin to engage the surrounding communities, sharing the need to expand our conservation efforts in this important region for monarchs. To do this, experts, practitioners, farmers, and others generally interested in the topic attended demonstration days at each of our six sites on farms in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa throughout the course of the fall. As we await spring growth and management at these sites, here are a few highlights from the season shared by project partners, the Xerces Society and Tallgrass Prairie Center. 

What happens at a demonstration day? These events typically begin with informational presentations by experts and practitioners who share knowledge about monarchs and other pollinators, the need for conserving them, and the steps that can be taken to do so. Each event also contains a field demonstration or activity, where participants glean first-hand experience with various steps in the process of restoring habitat, such as planting the seed or managing weeds. These sites will continue to be utilized in demonstrating the habitat restoration process in years to come and provide an opportunity for building stronger community connections.

Figure 1: Dave Williams with the Tallgrass Prairie Center discusses first year management of new prairie plantings at the in-field prairie strip planted last spring in Dysart, IA. Photo by Ashley Kittle, Tallgrass Prairie Center. Photo may not be reproduced without permission from the Tallgrass Prairie Center (contact Ashley Kittle, ashley.kittle@uni.edu)

 

Figure 2: Despite the rain, we had a great turnout at Heidel Family Dairy Farm in southeast Wisconsin. Participants enjoyed making connections with other conservation-minded farmers, and left the event very excited and well-equipped to create habitat on their own farms. As one participant put it, “the entire gathering was informative and energizing.”  Another farmer wrote to tell us “we stopped mowing milkweed a few years back and are pleased to have it thriving in several areas... We also have some pieces of land that lend themselves well to additional habitat and, using resources that we gathered today, will be exploring options to do so.” Photo by Kerry Lynch. Photos may not be reproduced without permission from the Xerces Society (contact Sarah Foltz Jordan, sarah@xerces.org)

 

Figure 3: At some of our farms, we flipped the used solarization plastic onto adjacent land, to expand the planting, and get more years of use out of the same piece of plastic. Clear, UV-stable solarization plastic heats the soil, killing weeds and weed seeds prior to planting. This picture shows workshop participants seeding an area that was solarized in 2015 (left), and a new area to be solarized in 2016 (right). Soon, this farm will have ½ acre of high quality monarch habitat adjacent to their organic cropland. Photo by Kerry Lynch. Photos may not be reproduced without permission from the Xerces Society (contact Sarah Foltz Jordan, sarah@xerces.org)

Milkweed in the agricultural Midwest is thought to be the backbone of the eastern monarch population during the breeding season. As farming practices have changed over the past couple decades, milkweed and wild nectar sources have been reduced on the landscape resulting in a significant loss of habitat for monarchs. Restoring quality monarch habitat in agricultural lands is essential to their population recovery.

Luckily, there is increasing interest in creating habitat on working farms, not just for monarchs, but also for soil and water conservation as well as habitat for other wildlife and personal enjoyment. This collaborative project teaches the necessary skills to create prairie habitat and showcase community examples and leaders that others can look to for support and advice.

Join this movement by creating or restoring habitat for monarchs on your land and encourage others around you to do the same. Reach out to your local NRCS Office for more information about their recommendations for monarch conservation, or connect with us or the Xerces Society or Tallgrass Prairie Center for resources and support on how to get started.

We look forward to expanding this work to support beneficial habitat for monarchs and pollinators in the Midwest and beyond.

 

Header photo: Planting at the Heidel Family Dairy Farm took place across generations! Photo by Kerry Lynch. Photos may not be reproduced without permission from the Xerces Society (contact Sarah Foltz Jordan, sarah@xerces.org)

The content in this article does not necessarily reflect the positions of all Monarch Joint Venture partners. Photos contained in this article may not be reproduced without permission from the source.