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Monte Shaw (left), Kevin Reynolds (center) and Eric Hakmiller stand on land at Lincolnway Energy
STEPPING UP: Monte Shaw (left), Kevin Reynolds and Eric Hakmiller stand on land at Lincolnway Energy, where a 2-acre monarch fueling station was seeded this spring.

More monarch ‘fueling stations’ established in Iowa

Iowa biofuel producers are providing habitat for crop pollinators.

The Iowa Renewable Fuels Association is continuing to help its members establish patches of monarch butterfly habitat at ethanol and biodiesel production facilities in Iowa. The Monarch Fueling Station Project was established by IRFA in partnership with the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium last December.

Monarchs are important pollinators of agricultural crops, wildflowers and other plants. Because of their migratory patterns, monarch butterflies need small patches of habitat to survive throughout the state. Even a 10th of an acre can make a difference, notes Monte Shaw, executive director of IRFA. Iowa’s ethanol and biodiesel production facilities are scattered across Iowa and tend to have a lot of green space on their properties, making them excellent partners for this effort.

“We work to help establish the original seeding,” says Kevin Reynolds, IRFA’s monarch habitat establishment coordinator. “Then we connect each plant with experts in their local area who can help guide the efforts and help them maintain the plots for years to come. Iowa has the expertise and resources to make a meaningful impact, and it’s exciting to see biofuel producers step up and take a lead.”

ADM habitat at Cedar Rapids
Archer Daniels Midland Co. in Cedar Rapids announced in May it had started work on launching a monarch fueling station. The ADM butterfly habitat area is being established along with an existing garden plot that grows food for local food banks and charities.

ADM has selected 5 acres to transform into monarch habitat. The company is getting help from Kirkwood Community College Parks and Natural Resources program, IRFA’s Reynolds, and NRCS. They are using a prairie grass and flower mixture, including milkweed, which monarchs need for laying eggs. This area is next to 2 acres being used to grow food for local food charities.

"The Monarch Fueling Station is an exciting project for our location and a great use of the land we have available,” says Eric McVey, plant superintendent at ADM’s corn processing facility in Cedar Rapids. “This will help establish an area for the monarch butterfly and other pollinators. Over time the habitat will reduce the need for mowing, provide a scenic area to view and help the environment. The food we grow will go into our local community to help those in need. Through these efforts, ADM can demonstrate our core values and support our community."

Reynolds is helping ADM as the plant moves forward with seeding and maintenance. “Iowa’s biofuels plants are establishing themselves as leaders in the statewide effort to restore the population of the monarch butterfly,” he says. “We look forward to working with biofuel plants to make their efforts as successful as possible.” 

Fuel retailer first to launch habitat
Star Energy FS in late May announced intentions to establish monarch fueling stations at four of its locations. It will be the first IRFA member that is not a biofuel production facility to establish a monarch fueling station.

The four FS monarch habitats will each span anywhere from over a quarter of an acre to 2 acres, depending on location. Seeding is planned to take place in June. Star Energy FS is also looking at expanding the project to other locations.

“We are excited to come alongside Iowa biofuels plants in this effort to help restore the population of the monarch butterfly,” says Jeff Manthei, Star Energy general manager. “This is a natural next step, considering we already work closely with Iowa biofuels plants to offer blends of their excellent fuels.”

Location and size of plots was decided in consultation with Reynolds. IRFA’s Monarch Fueling Station Project is catching momentum in Iowa.

“While we first started by working with biofuel production plants,” Reynolds says, “hopefully, more and more businesses affiliated with the industry, such as Star Energy FS, will join the coalition, and we can make an even bigger impact.”

Big River Resources has 2 projects
In late May, Big River Resources announced intentions to establish Monarch Fueling Stations at its two Iowa biofuel production plants: West Burlington in southeast Iowa and Dyersville in northeast Iowa. The West Burlington project will span 1.8 acres, while the Dyersville project will be about an acre. Seeding is expected to take place this fall.

“The IRFA Monarch Fueling Station Project is a good idea,” says Ryan Janson, technical and environmental coordinator for Big River Resources. “It’s low cost, reduces the amount of mowing in the area and provides a positive environmental impact. This project demonstrates Big River Resources’ commitment to our environment and community.”

“Iowa’s biofuel plants are leading examples of how individuals and groups can use the resources available to them, no matter how big or small, to make a difference in the effort to boost the monarch butterfly population,” Reynolds says. Big River is considering establishing similar plots of monarch habitat at facilities outside of Iowa.

Lincolnway Energy seeds monarch station
Lincolnway Energy, an ethanol producer at Nevada in central Iowa, this spring seeded its 2-acre monarch fueling station. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service laid down a seed mixture of plants that attract pollinators. The mixture has a special emphasis on milkweed plants, the only plant monarchs can lay their eggs on.

“The majority of the plants will spend this year developing a root system, but three or four of the species will grow pretty fast,” Reynolds says. He’s working with Lincolnway on the next steps as the plants sprout and grow, including weed control and mowing. Eric Hakmiller, CEO of Lincolnway, adds, “Protecting pollinators like the monarch butterfly is important to Iowa agriculture, and we are proud to be doing our part by creating and maintaining this habitat.”

Poet Biorefining another habitat cooperator
In mid-May Poet Biorefining at Coon Rapids in western Iowa announced it is establishing a monarch fueling station. The habitat will span half an acre, and seeding will take place in June. The Coon Rapids biofuel plant intends to involve local FFA and STEM students at every step of the process. 

“This project is a great opportunity to give back to the environment and the community,” says Ryan Filloon, manager of the Coon Rapids plant. “We’re excited to work with the students on planting and maintaining the monarch habitat, and do our part in this statewide effort to boost the population of these important pollinators.” 

“I fully expect the monarch fueling stations to have a meaningful impact on increasing the population of the monarch butterfly,” Reynolds says. “Even one local project can make a difference. That’s a great lesson for the students involved.”

Southwest Iowa monarch fueling station
In February, Southwest Iowa Renewable Energy announced plans for a monarch station on its property. The ethanol plant near Council Bluffs was the second Iowa biofuels facility to commit to creating monarch butterfly habitat. Farmer Rick Frost helped select two sites around the plant’s railcar loop track to cultivate the habitat, for a total of 7 acres. The first seeding was this spring.

“This is a great opportunity to protect an important part of our state’s environment,” says SIRE CEO Brian Cahill. “Our board views this as a win-win. We can provide critical habitat for monarchs and other pollinators instead of paying someone to mow grass. Why not take a little extra time to transform part of our land into something that can benefit Iowa for years to come? It’s also been a pleasant surprise to see how excited our staff and community are to take a small, but meaningful, step to help maintain ecological diversity. We especially appreciate Rick Frost’s efforts to get this started.”

To learn more about the IRFA Monarch Fueling Station Project, contact IRFA at info@IowaRFA.org or 515-252-6249.

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