Increasing the availability of milkweed seed is a major component of our recovery strategy for restoring the monarch butterfly population. However, milkweed seed availability continues to be a problem for restoration managers and gardeners looking for the appropriate, local milkweed to plant. The Xerces Society has been working with commercial native seed producers and experts in 11 states across the country to identify the challenges of milkweed seed production. In a striking majority, 80% of respondents reported insect damage as a barrier to increasing seed yields, which in turn is a problem for expanding commercial availability of native milkweeds.
Milkweed seed producers estimate they lose 25-50% of their milkweed crop yield to insects like aphids, beetles, and seed feeding bugs. While percentage of crop lost is difficult to quantify, this perception is a problem because it results in growers using insecticides on their milkweed to control unwanted insects. However, pests are not the only insects to frequent milkweed production fields as feeding and breeding grounds; sometimes thousands of monarchs have been estimated in these fields. This puts a significant population of monarchs at risk when growers resort to insecticides.
The Xerces Society is developing and pioneering an Integrated Pest Management strategy to address this problem. This system will allow growers to accurately estimate how much crop they are losing to pests, recommend a reasonable threshold at which to take action on pest-induced damage, and provide a system of recommended treatments to reduce damage while increasing protection for monarchs and other beneficial insects in milkweed seed production fields.
This initial IPM framework to be completed in 2016 will provide milkweed seed growers with the most comprehensive pest management decision-support tool ever developed for their industry. This tool will also simultaneously help protect monarchs from insecticides. We look forward to seeing this important milkweed and monarch conservation resource developed.