Living Acres

Blog: Living Acres

Oct. 28, 2016
Butterfly Garden
Living Acres Butterfly Garden at Farm Progress Show

At this year’s Farm Progress Show in Boone, Iowa, attendees were greeted at the front gates with an unusual site: a patch of weeds. Not just any weeds, but milkweed, the plant needed by monarch butterflies to reproduce.

Milkweed is the only plant that monarch caterpillars, or larvae, will consume as they grow to become adult butterflies. This makes it a necessary part of their reproductive cycle. BASF is encouraging farmers to plant milkweed in their non-crop areas through its Living Acres initiative to help stimulate the monarch butterfly population.

Many farmers are leery of planting milkweed because it is a weed that has plagued corn and soybean fields in the past. Thanks to new herbicide technologies, that is no longer a concern and milkweed can safely be grown alongside fields to provide habitat for monarchs. Living Acres provided an example of what this habitat could look like on a farmer’s land.

Show attendees did not soak in a manicured, well-maintained garden landscape, but rather a patch of native prairie plants in the first year of growth.

“Many farmers are disappointed in their first year of native plant growth,” said Luke Bozeman, Director of Research and Development, BASF Crop Protection, North America. “It takes about three years for these plants to really establish and become a beautiful stretch of native prairie.”

It is easy to establish native prairie grasses from seed, though wildflowers and milkweed take a little more effort. Wildflowers do best when there is less competitive grass in the seed mix and milkweed has an extremely low and inconsistent germination rate. Growers will see more success planting milkweed root sections with an active bud rather than directly seeding it. Mowing these habitat areas at the end of each season encourages wildflowers and milkweed to return as stronger plants the following year.

Though the Living Acres Butterfly Garden at Farm Progress Show was more grass than flowers, it was teeming with insect life. Bumble bees, honey bees, butterflies and even a handful of monarch caterpillars were spotted in the garden throughout the show.

“We wanted to show farmers that even if the first year of growth seems disappointing, they will be contributing to biodiversity on their farms,” Bozeman said. “Increasing plant diversity in those marginal regions of land will lead to more insect and animal diversity.”

Learn more about how to successfully establish milkweed here.

Aug. 17, 2016
What is Living Acres?

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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