Hog farmers are collaborating with Iowa State University to provide more habitat for monarch butterflies through on-farm research projects.

Farmer members of the Iowa Pork Producers Association have worked with researchers from Iowa State University and the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium since 2015 to plant and survey monarch habitat plots on their land. One of the many challenges monarch butterflies face is the loss of milkweed and nectar-plant habitat throughout the upper Midwest.

When the project was proposed three years ago it seemed like a unique approach, said Ben Crawford, an Iowa pork producer and environmental-services director for Prestage Farms of Iowa.

“The diversity of blooming plants in the plot is really remarkable,” Crawford said. “Getting started takes a lot of patience, but by year two or three the plants have filled in and you can really see the benefits.”

The habitat plantings include milkweed and a diverse array of blooming species to provide nectar for adult monarchs throughout their life cycle and seasonal migrations. Female monarchs lay eggs exclusively on milkweed plants. National and state efforts focus on establishment of new milkweed habitat to reach conservation goals. The Iowa Monarch Conservation Strategy seeks to establish 480,000 to 830,000 acres of monarch habitat by 2038.

Findings from the research collaboration are helping refine practical recommendations for establishing monarch habitat across Iowa’s landscape.

“Iowa’s pig farmers are committed to continuous improvement with Iowa’s environment,” said Trent Thiele, a pork producer from Elma, Iowa, and president of the Iowa Pork Producers Association. “We became involved in this project to help find answers about monarch-habitat establishment. Now we can provide information about that research for producers who are interested in putting monarch habitat near their building sites.”

Voluntary efforts to establish monarch habitat are intended to complement existing environmental stewardship and conservation programs for farmers, while still adhering to best practices for livestock production.

“Initially there were some concerns about biosecurity hazards due to a potential increase in rodents,” Crawford said. “During these three years we haven’t experienced any difficulties with unwanted critters. I don’t really see it as an issue as long as there is a buffer area between the barn and the plot, and a standard baiting protocol is in place.”

Visit www.iowamonarchs.info for more information.