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ADM to create monarch butterfly habitat

Five acres to become monarch preservation area

A monarch butterfly rests on a flower in the Butterfly House during the Johnson County Fair on Wednesday, July 24, 2013, in Iowa City. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
A monarch butterfly rests on a flower in the Butterfly House during the Johnson County Fair on Wednesday, July 24, 2013, in Iowa City. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Archer Daniels Midland facilities in Cedar Rapids will convert five acres of land into prairie grasses and flowers — including milkweed — to create a monarch butterfly habitat.

The Iowa Renewable Fuels Association announced plans for the habitat on Thursday. The habitat is part of the Monarch Fueling Station Project the Iowa RFA established in December in partnership with the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium at Iowa State University in Ames.

Iowa RFA Executive Director Monte Shaw said ADM was one of the first companies to step up after the project was announced.

“We’re encouraging all plants to do this. With today’s announcements we’re up to six and we hope to be up to 20 projects when it’s all said and done,” Shaw said.

The organization will have a complete list of interested ethanol and biodiesel facilities by early next summer, Shaw said, and he anticipates all planting will finish no later than fall 2019.

Earlier this year Lincoln Way Energy near Nevada, Southwest Iowa Renewable Energy near Council Bluffs and POET Biorefining near Coon Rapids announced plans to create monarch habitats.

Big River Resources is hoping to create plots at its West Burlington and Dyersville facilities, and Star Energy FS also is on board, Shaw said.

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ADM’s plot will be the largest to date, but plots as small as half an acre are effective, said Steve Bradbury, a research team member at the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium.

Insecticide use and the loss of milkweed and nectar resources have contributed to a decline in Midwestern Monarch populations of more than 80 percent in the past 20 years.

According to the Midwest Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, efforts to increase biodiversity and the presence of nectar-rich plants is key to monarch conservation efforts.

The milkweed needed by monarchs to reproduce can compete with crops for resources when located in fields — but careful planting and regular maintenance limit those risks.

One company whose RFA representative was “an older farmer who had pulled a lot of milkweed was a little hesitant. He was shocked how excited the people working at the plants were,” Shaw said.

In the next 20 years, the Consortium would like to see between 480,000 and 830,000 acres of monarch habitat established in Iowa.

“We’re at the beginning now, so the work the RFA is doing is great,” Bradbury said.

With ethanol and biodiesel plants dispersed all throughout Iowa, Shaw is hopeful about potential impact of the Iowa RFA’s work.

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“There’s always some grass areas around distribution spots for safety where these habitats can be located,” Shaw said. “ Instead of paying someone to mow grass, we can help the monarchs.”

Cedar Rapids ADM officials did not respond by deadline for comment for this article.

l Comments: (319) 368-8514; molly.hunter@thegazette.com

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