Illinois ag taking action for monarchs

Statewide coalition releases 20-year agricultural plan to help protect, maintain monarch butterflies.

The Illinois Monarch Project, released today, presents needs and recommendations to support agriculture's involvement in monarch efforts. (Illinois Farm Bureau file photo)

By Kay Shipman

A statewide agriculture coalition that includes Illinois Farm Bureau today released a 20-year agricultural plan to help monarch butterflies as part of the Illinois Monarch Project. The Earth Day ceremony included breaking ground for one of the new pollinator habitats that will be planted on the Illinois State Fairgrounds, Springfield.

“We believe proactive solutions that involve farmers and the agricultural community are the only way to meet ambitious conservation goals,” said Illinois Farm Bureau President Richard Guebert Jr. “Pollinator habitat is on everyone’s mind, and I want to compliment the county Farm Bureaus and our members for taking a leading role and for all they’ve done on their own farms to support pollinators.”

Illinois Farm Bureau, along with agricultural organizations from across the state, today released a 20-year agricultural plan to help monarch butterflies as part of the Illinois Monarch Project.

For more than 2 ½ years, an agricultural subcommittee of the Illinois Monarch Project worked on a practical plan representing farmers’ and agribusinesses’ perspectives. Subcommittee representatives included ag organizations, conservation and natural resource agencies and crop protection specialists with scientist advisers. Visit

Video: A statewide agriculture coalition, including Illinois Farm Bureau, released a 20-yar plan to help monarch butterflies as part of the Illinois Monarch Project. 

How we got here

Illinois has worked on two monarch strategies. One was part of a multistate flyway plan submitted to U.S. Fish and Wildlife last June. The other will be an Illinois plan to guide conservation efforts and be in place should monarchs become a threatened or endangered species. The Illinois-only strategy is known as the Illinois Monarch Project. 

The multistate plan, known as the Mid-Continental Monarch Conservation Strategy, proposes adding 1.3 billion to 1.8 billion new milkweed stems or 29 million acres of milkweed in the multistate area by 2025. Illinois, which represents 12 percent of the multistate group, has a goal to add 150 million milkweed stems, or 12 percent of 1.3 billion, by 2038 toward the regional goal.

The newly released Agriculture Action Plan highlights accomplishments to date for the agriculture sector. These include Illinois ranking second in the nation for pollinator habitat through the Conservation Reserve Program and Agriculture in the Classroom (AITC) reaching 106,717 students and 4,977 teachers with pollinator educational resources.

Farmers face immediate challenges

While researchers continue to learn about monarchs’ life cycle, especially during migration, farmers need information about practices that can support monarchs.

Best management practices for mowing is a prime example. Conservationists don’t agree on the best methods or times to mow to support multiple species, including pollinators, game birds and other wildlife.

Farmers also need solutions to manage pests and weeds without impacting adjacent habitat on field edges and corners.

As demand increases for habitat and conservation seed, farmers need access to seed that is free of invasive weeds, such as palmer amaranth. Solutions are needed for gaps in scientific evaluation of seed certification.

Strategies for success

The plan presents needs and recommendations to support agriculture’s involvement in monarch efforts.

Education and outreach needs include changing mowing perceptions about roadsides and other areas. Recommendations include educational efforts targeting landlords and absentee landowners who frequently require mowing of property.

Pesticide stewardship efforts will focus on educating farmers about managing crops and milkweed with traditional weed management programs and increasing understanding that pollinator habitat can be maintained and not interfere with crops.

The subcommittee recommends the state pesticide applicator certification curriculum include information about pollinator health, pesticide best management practices for pollinators and the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The plan includes various policy-related recommendations. These include standard farm lease language that includes mowing consideration for pollinators and wildlife, enhancing the ESA to better protect landowners who establish habitat, change seed labeling law to show the percentage of milkweed seed in pollinator seed mixes, and promoting government programs with flexibility to protect monarchs.

“Now the work begins to implement our strategy and continue to build important partnerships in agriculture to get it done,” Guebert said. He added the ag sector looks forward to a comprehensive state monarch plan that includes rights of ways, natural lands and urban areas. Agriculture is the first sector to release a plan to the public, and the plan will fit into the larger plan once the other sectors are ready to release their plans.

“Illinois agriculture has been a leader on the monarch issue and will continue to play an important role in the future,” Guebert concluded.

In addition to IFB, agricultural partners include AITC, Illinois Milk Producers Association, GROWMARK, Illinois Department of Agriculture, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Illinois Corn Growers Association, Illinois Soybean Association, Illinois Pork Producers Association, Association of Illinois Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association, University of Illinois Extension, U of I Extension Pesticide Safety Education Program, Illinois Natural History Survey, Waterborne Environmental, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and USDA Farm Service Agency.