Photo courtesy Iowa State University Entomology Dept.

A new strategy to help conserve the monarch butterfly has been unveiled in Iowa and farmers are being asked to join in the effort.

Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey says there are many ways farmers can help, including the establishment of monarch habitat on their farms. “Areas that are of lower return, edges of fields, right-of-ways, forest land and pasture land as well,” Northey says.

Another way, Northey says, is to avoid spraying patches of milkweed. Female monarchs only lay their eggs on milkweed plants and the hatched caterpillars feed exclusively on milkweed.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reviewing monarch butterflies under the Endangered Species Act and has until June 2019 to determine whether or not to list the species. Northey says that decision will rest in part on progress made by farmers and others in implementing effective voluntary conservation efforts. “The best chance of avoiding that is to show a voluntary effort of finding the best place in everybody’s operation — both farmers and non-farmers, both public lands and private lands — for everyone to engage to some degree,” Northey says.

The new effort involves nearly 40 groups calling themselves the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium. A recent report from Mexico found the monarch butterfly population at wintering sites dropped 27 percent this year. Over the past two decades, the monarch population has declined by approximately 80 percent. Roughly 40 percent of all monarch butterflies that winter in Mexico are estimated to come from Iowa and neighboring Midwestern states.

Reporting by Ken Anderson, Brownfield Ag News