Don Duvall

Protecting our pollinators

When I think of butterflies, I think of the monarch and its iconic black and orange pattern. And as farmers, I think were perfectly positioned to be partners in solving the plight of the monarch butterfly.

As I understand it, 90% of monarch butterfly populations have decreased over the last 20 years. And because scientists estimate that one of every three bites of food we eat are directly dependent on pollinators like butterflies and bees, its hugely important that we do everything we can to support pollinators, including monarchs.

Illinois is particularly important to the monarch because were right in the middle of their migratory path between Mexico and Canada.

Decrease in habitat led to decreased populations

There are many reasons monarch butterfly numbers have declined, but the main ones are habitat loss, urban development and changes in farm practices. On the farm side, weve done such a good job controlling the weeds in our fields that theres been an unintended consequence: Milkweed the main source of food and habitat for monarch butterflies can be hard to find.

As a child, I spent a lot of hours walking soybean fields and hand chopping milkweed and other weeds. Today, we have sophisticated weed control products that do that for us, so now were finding ways to bring milkweed populations back in other areas of the farm.


Together, were bringing back the monarchs

If youd told me 10 years ago that Id be planting milkweed, Id have called you crazy. Because of the amount of land we care for, I know now that farmers are in a unique position to help pollinators.

I started my pollinator plot with a flat of milkweed stems. I planted most of them on land already being used for other conservation projects a strip of land next to one of my fields but saved a few for my landscaping beds in the backyard. What I noticed is theyve been extremely easy to grow. I basically planted them and then let them be, and they really thrived.

As that first growing season progressed, I became concerned when I noticed the plants were being decimated. I looked closer and found that monarch caterpillars were eating the milkweed. Thats exactly what was supposed to happen.

Ive seen the difference firsthand. Its like that old saying, If you build it, they will come. If you plant pollinator habitats, the butterflies will come. Since planting my milkweed, Ive definitely seen more monarchs around the farm.

And Im not alone. Theres a coordinated effort with agricultural and other advocacy groups to increase pollinator habitats. A lot of others are working on this issue, and Illinois is one of the leading states in planting habitat that supports pollinators. In the last 10 years, more than 100,000 acres have been planted with pollinator-friendly plants in Illinois alone.Everybody has the opportunity to be part of this, even if you only have a small backyard garden or flower bed.



Good for pollinators, good for us all

We feel very passionate about trying to leave the world in a better place, and pollinator plots are just one solution. Its very easy to do, and its the right thing to do.

Don Duvall

About Don

I think its the goal of every farmer to pass the farm down to the next generation in better condition than he or she received it. Im doing things differently than my dad did when it comes to conservation and sustainability.

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