Wallaces Farmer

Iowa is one of 9 states eligible for cost-sharing for soil and water conservation projects that attract Monarchs.

Rod Swoboda 1, Editor, Wallaces Farmer

April 22, 2016

5 Min Read

Iowa agricultural producers who want to increase habitat for Monarch butterflies on their land now have opportunities to receive cost-share funding for conservation practices that attract Monarchs. The Monarch butterfly population has declined precipitously in recent decades, and is currently undergoing a status review for potential federal listing as an endangered species.


Iowa is one of nine states along the Monarch’s core migration route and primary breeding range. As part of the Monarch Butterfly Habitat Development Project, the effort is focusing on plantings of milkweed and Monarch nectaring forbs in wetlands and other marginal lands. This project is administered through USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

May 20 is application deadline for Monarch Butterfly funding

A sampling of eligible conservation practices through the project includes: brush management, conservation cover, field borders and prescribed burning. The application deadline for the Monarch Butterfly Habitat Development Project is May 20. Visit your local NRCS office to ask about developing a plan to address Monarch habitat or other resource concerns and financial assistance opportunities.

Iowa farmers will also have an opportunity to receive funding for soil and water conservation practices that improve Monarch habitat through a Regional Conservation Partnership Program project. Funding information for this project will be available later this year. For more information on the Monarch habitat projects and other soil and water conservation topics, visit the Iowa NRCS website ia.nrcs.usda.gov.

Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium reports success

Although the number of monarch butterflies overwintering in Mexico has sharply rebounded, leaders of the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium say sustained efforts of Iowa crop and livestock farmers, landowners, conservationists and others are critical to ensuring continued improvements to monarch conservation.

In late February the World Wildlife Fund, announced that this winter’s survey reported adult butterflies covered approximately 10 acres of forest in Mexico. During the last three winters, overwintering butterflies occupied three or fewer acres. This past year, the U.S. set a conservation goal for a sustained monarch population of about 15 acres, or 225 million butterflies through domestic and international efforts and public-private partnerships.

Overwintering numbers of migrating monarchs are looking better

“These monarch butterfly population numbers are encouraging,” says Sue Blodgett, chair of the Department of Entomology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State University. “The overwintering numbers for 2015-16 provide us time to develop and implement long-term habitat conservation strategies that will provide the foundation for a resilient monarch population.”

The ongoing, collaborative conservation efforts of the Monarch Consortium’s members in Iowa will play a key role in helping to ensure the population response noted this winter can become part of a positive trend for the future. The Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium was established in 2015, through the efforts of ISU’s College of Ag, the Iowa Department of Ag & Land Stewardship and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Its mission is to enhance monarch reproduction and survival in Iowa through coordinated efforts of farmers, private citizens and their organizations. 

Conservation efforts by Iowa farmers are helping provide habitat

The consortium has more than 25 members including ag groups, conservation organizations, technology providers, energy industry, universities and state and federal agencies. The consortium also partners with national conservation groups such as Monarch Watch, Pheasants Forever and Sand County Foundation. Partners of the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium are working together to develop a science-based approach, fostering habitat improvements in rural landscapes that do not conflict with agricultural production, are sufficient in scale to support improved monarch breeding success and strive to complement other conservation programs.

In 2016, ISU researchers will continue working with farmers and livestock producers to incorporate monarch habitat into a variety of Iowa landscapes, through support of consortium members and grants provided by USDA, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Pork Producers Association. “We will refine methods for establishing and maintaining habitat, determine the benefits of different habitat patch sizes and continue our evaluation of milkweed species and companion plants at ISU Research and Demonstration Farms,” says Blodgett.

Monarchs depend on milkweeds to lay eggs and for survival

Continuing in 2016 will be monitoring monarch caterpillars’ preferences for milkweed species in their growth and development, and adult monarchs’ preferences for egg laying, she says. Extension efforts will include field days at ISU Research and Demo Farms and an interactive exhibit at the 2016 Farm Progress Show in August.

Nationally, population declines in monarch butterflies have been attributed to various factors, including loss of overwintering and spring and summer milkweed habitat. Monarchs depend on milkweed plants for laying their eggs and for caterpillar nutrition. As adults, monarchs also rely on other flowering plants for nutrition. Consortium research will guide the development of cost-effective methods to establish and maintain monarch habitat. Extension programs will deliver practical, “how to” information for conserving breeding habitat on farms and rural areas.

Monarch Conservation Consortium helps butterflies bounce back

Monarch butterflies travel between 1,200 to 2,800 miles from Canada, through the United States, and into Mexico where they rest in temperate fir and pine forests. Along the way, they encounter numerous threats related to a changing climate, deforestation, and loss of milkweed—the only plant they use to breed, and upon which larvae feed and grow before they turn in to butterflies. The combination of these hazards has vastly impacted their populations. To learn more about the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium, visit monarch.ent.iastate.edu/.

About the Author(s)

Rod Swoboda 1

Editor, Wallaces Farmer

Rod, who has been a member of the editorial staff of Wallaces Farmer magazine since 1976, was appointed editor of the magazine in April 2003. He is widely recognized around the state, especially for his articles on crop production and soil conservation topics, and has won several writing awards, in addition to honors from farm, commodity and conservation organizations.

"As only the tenth person to hold the position of Wallaces Farmer editor in the past 100 years, I take seriously my responsibility to provide readers with timely articles useful to them in their farming operations," Rod says.

Raised on a farm that is still owned and operated by his family, Rod enjoys writing and interviewing farmers and others involved in agriculture, as well as planning and editing the magazine. You can also find Rod at other Farm Progress Company activities where he has responsibilities associated with the magazine, including hosting the Farm Progress Show, Farm Progress Hay Expo and the Iowa Master Farmer program.

A University of Illinois grad with a Bachelors of Science degree in agriculture (ag journalism major), Rod joined Wallaces Farmer after working several years in Washington D.C. as a writer for Farm Business Incorporated.

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