The number of monarch butterflies in the country is dwindling, and to recover, they need milkweed — and lots of it.
A new U.S. Department of Agriculture program aims to increase the milkweed supply by paying farmers and private land owners in Indiana and nine other states to grow milkweed beside their fields. The USDA will allocate $4 million to the effort.
Vicky Meretsky, a professor of environmental science in the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs, says in the past, monarchs flourished beside agricultural lands.
“It’s only in the last handful of years — with some of the new chemicals that are being used, particularly new pesticides, that are being used, but also some of the new herbicides that have made it impossible for the milkweeds to survive in the roadside ditches,” she says.
Meretsky says the monarch population has dropped 50 to 75 percent in the last ten years.
Meretsky says loss of forest land and climate change also contributed to the decline. Monarchs are pollinators, and some plants rely on them to reproduce.
She says the success of the program will rest on how many farmers and private landowners join.