Living Acres

What is Living Acres?

August 17, 2016

The monarch butterfly is iconic to North American summers. Adults today can easily recognize this insect as memories flood back of excitedly huddling around a terrarium with fellow fourth-graders to watch a furry caterpillar turn into the mesmerizing adult butterfly. Generations of students have learned about the importance of this pollinator and the essential role it has in sustaining healthy ecosystems.

Over the past two decades, the monarch has seen a significant decline in population due in part to changing weather patterns, loss of overwintering sites in Mexico and the reduction of milkweed habitat in the United States. Milkweed is essential to maintaining and increasing monarch populations since it serves as the location for mating, a place to lay their eggs and a food source for larvae.

With this knowledge at hand, BASF launched Living Acres, a research initiative dedicated to finding best practices for establishing milkweed refuges in non-cropland areas. BASF recognizes that farmers are uniquely positioned as stewards of the land and experts in cultivating crops to help increase milkweed habitat for monarch butterflies.

Since the launch of the initiative in 2015, researchers have found that by investing time upfront to establish milkweed, farmers can expect the perennial to support itself year after year with minimal effort. To ensure farmers are planting milkweed in the most successful manner, BASF has released a guide for best planting practices.

By analyzing 13 plots around the country, researchers found that milkweed flourishes when using root sections or transplants for the planting process. Though it is common to plant milkweed seeds, only a small percentage of planted seeds germinate. For the seeds that do germinate, the seedlings are non-competitive and easily overtaken by other plants. This makes it difficult to establish a vigorous milkweed refuge from seed. Planting root sections with active buds or directly transplanting seedlings results in the most successful establishment. Additionally, the plants grown from root sections are typically much more vigorous than transplants in the first year of growth.

The ongoing research effort will continue to provide recommendations for planting milkweed to maximize monarch habitat and biodiversity all while allowing farmers to focus on crop production. The goal of the project is to use BASF’s strength in research to provide farmers, and the community at-large, with a set of best practices that will make for effective and efficient milkweed establishment, ultimately benefiting monarch butterflies and the ecosystem as a whole.

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