It didn’t take Kevin Reynolds long to become involved again in conservation after the longtime district conservationist in Decatur County retired from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Reynolds retired in April 2017, a month before his wife, Kim, was named acting governor of Iowa. Before the summer was over, Kevin — now the first gentleman of Iowa — was talking about promoting more pollinator habitat in Iowa.
“I encouraged farmers and worked with them to establish native prairie plants for wildlife benefits pretty much my entire 36-year career, but in the past few years got really involved in specific pollinator habitat programs with our technical assistance to farmers through the Conservation Reserve Program and NRCS programs,” Reynolds says.
“I probably signed up farmers for more than 5,000 acres specifically for pollinator habitat in Decatur County, and had been to a few meetings of the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium so I had some knowledge and interest when Monte Shaw [executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association] had a proposal for me about a year ago,” he says.
Pollinator plantings at ethanol plants
Reynolds had known Shaw for some time. “Monte suggested we could work together to promote pollinator habitat plantings at ethanol plants,” Reynolds says, “and I agreed to talk to people managing the plants to give them the basic information they might need to get started, and put them into contact with some people locally, including NRCS, who could help. The plant managers aren’t farmers, but the process of talking them through the procedure is the same as it was when I worked with NRCS.”
IRFA launched its Monarch Fueling Station Project in December, with the intent to help ethanol and biodiesel producers across the state establish monarch butterfly habitats on green spaces surrounding biofuels plants. Reynolds has worked on a voluntary basis with no pay to advise six plants so far; their personnel are establishing about 25 acres of pollinator habitat on 14 separate sites.
“It only takes a 66-foot-by-66-foot area (about a 10th of an acre) to make a difference,” Reynolds says. “That could be at an ethanol plant, on several plots on a farm, inside a town or anywhere else. Everyone can do something for pollinators.”
Reynolds says that includes planting milkweeds for monarchs. “Monarch caterpillars eat only milkweeds. They don’t have to be common milkweeds that were weeds in soybean fields in the past. But it’s so easy to control milkweeds in crop fields today that I wouldn’t be afraid to include it in pollinator plantings on the farm.”
Planting pollinator garden
The folks at Corteva Agriscience, the agriculture division of DowDuPont, agree. They’ve planted milkweed in multiple locations across the Corteva Agriscience campus at Johnston in central Iowa and included them in the mix in a new pollinator demonstration garden they established adjacent to their working farm in June.
Reynolds was on hand to help about 70 volunteers celebrate National Pollinator Week as they planted a variety of flowering forbs, trees and shrubs adjacent to a half acre of prairie forbs and grasses at the company’s Integrated Seed Science Center.
“You need plant diversity to have continuous blooms through the season for food for pollinators, and for a variety of size, shape and color of flowers that attract a range of pollinators,” says Rachel Woods, senior research associate and Corteva Agriscience lead on the pollinator garden project. That will be one of the concepts the garden will showcase to visitors who tour the campus seed treatment facility each year.
Planners consulted with the Honey Bee Health Coalition, ISU, USDA, Bee and Butterfly Fund, their own scientists, and others as they drew up plans, so the garden could showcase the most beneficial plant species for pollinators in a thoughtfully designed space.
Be aware of bees
Linn Wilbur, a retired veterinarian and beekeeper from Nevada, says the habitat is just as important for honeybees as it is for native pollinators. “About 30% of the food we eat needs pollination, and bees handle half of that,” says Wilbur, a hobbyist with 30 hives spread across Boone and Story counties. He’s one of 1,800 beekeepers in the state, most of whom are hobbyists.
“There are about 60,000 bees in each hive,” Wilbur says. “We register their locations and depend on farmers to know where those hives are to farm in harmony with them.”
Betts writes from Johnston.