Growing Returns

Farmer interest in conservation is growing, but barriers remain high. Here’s how we can overcome them.

“Are you interested in planting hedgerows of native plants on your farm, but aren’t quite sure how to get started?”

That was the question Rex Defour, the California regional director for the National Center for Appropriate Technology, posed to farmers in a blog earlier this year.

The response? A flood of calls and emails from interested farmers. In a matter of weeks, 90 growers from across the country signed up to plant over 23 miles of hedgerows. Read More »

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How female farmers are conservation leaders on the farm and beyond

Surveys show that women own or co-own nearly half the farmland in the Midwest but are often under-represented in leadership positions, including in policymaking bodies, financial institutions, and other agricultural agencies and institutions.

The Women, Food and Agriculture Network is working to change that, giving women the resources and connections they need to be effective practitioners and supporters of sustainable agriculture. Read More »

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A new kind of supply chain initiative will help pollinators and farmers alike

California produces the majority of the world’s almonds, with nearly 1.53 million acres dedicated to almond orchards. However, less than 20,000 of those acres are bee-friendly verified with pollinator habitat and reduced pesticide use.

As bees and other important pollinator populations decline sharply, it is imperative to change the trajectory of pollinator and biodiversity loss in key agricultural landscapes — and one food company is launching an effort to do just that. Read More »

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Golf courses planted 1,000 acres to save the monarch butterfly. Here’s why.

In 2017, my EDF colleagues and I partnered with Audubon International to team up with a seemingly unlikely ally in pollinator conservation — golf courses.

Together, we launched Monarchs in the Rough, a program that partners with golf courses to restore monarch butterfly and other pollinator habitat in out-of-play areas. Read More »

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These farms planted wildflowers to attract bugs to control pests. And it’s working.

Last fall, two farms in California’s Sacramento Valley planted a wildflower cover crop mix as part of a commitment to restore habitat within 325 acres of pecan orchards. The farms, Pacific Gold Agriculture and Bypass Farms, are participating in a project called “Orchards Alive” in hopes that wildflowers will attract pollinators and naturally reduce pest pressure.

Orchards Alive came about thanks to a $3 million monarch and pollinator recovery bill (AB 2421) designed to establish habitat restoration projects for important pollinator species facing steep population losses. Read More »

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Monarch butterfly population down 53% from last year. Here’s the swift action we need.

Last week, scientists released results from the latest count of the eastern monarch butterfly population — the main population that migrates east of the Rockies and overwinters in Mexico. The 53% drop from just last year was an unexpected and staggering outcome that left conservationists like me downcast, but ready to act.

While many of us were expecting to see some small decline, this significant drop is especially alarming because it indicates that the monarch population is below the threshold at which scientists predict the migration could collapse. Read More »

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What are cover crops doing on a pecan orchard? Hopefully attracting bugs.

You don’t typically hear farmers saying they want to attract bugs to their farm, but that’s what a unique conservation project in California’s Sacramento Valley is doing – determining whether cover crops can attract more at-risk native pollinators, like monarch butterflies, in addition to insects that serve as pest control, like ladybugs.

The project came about thanks to a $3-million monarch and pollinator recovery bill (AB 2421) designed to establish habitat restoration projects for important pollinator species facing steep population losses. Read More »

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The star power of pollinators on the farm

The famous line, “If you build it, he will come,” voiced by an anonymous actor sets the entire plot of Field of Dreams in motion. Kevin Costner as Ray Kinsella may be the star, but the movie depends equally on that unnamed voiceover artist and on the actors playing Kinsella’s late father and former baseball legends, who arrive to play ball on a diamond in the middle of an Iowa cornfield.

This baseball classic shows how leading characters are important, but it is often supporting characters who carry the show. The same is true in nature. Charismatic species get the spotlight, but it’s a biologically diverse ensemble cast that creates a healthy ecosystem.

In the drama to save rapidly declining pollinators, which provide $3 billion of pollination services to U.S. agriculture each year, monarch butterflies are the high-profile star. The species’ population has plummeted 90% over the past two decades, a decline emblematic of the larger challenges that all pollinators face. The monarch’s many fans — drawn in by the butterfly’s beauty and awesome migration — have rallied to save them, and conservation efforts are benefitting other lesser-known, critically important pollinators.

If we had the Oscars for pollinators, monarchs would likely be nominated for the best actor category. The best supporting actor category would be competitive, but these three species, which work alongside the famous butterfly, would be strong contenders. Read More »

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This Midwest hog farmer wants to create a “butterfly effect” to bring back the monarch

Eastern monarch butterfly populations rebounded last year, largely thanks to favorable weather conditions during the butterflies’ 3,000-mile migration. To help make those increases permanent and reduce chances of an endangered species listing, we need to plant 1.5 million more acres of milkweed, native grasses and wildflower habitat on farms and ranches.

Farmers like Tim Richter, who manages a grain and hog operation in Iowa and Missouri, are stepping up provide monarchs with vital breeding and nectaring habitat.

I sat down with him to discuss what inspired him to restore monarch habitat, and to ask him what he wants other farmers to know about pollinator conservation. Read More »

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The monarch ESA listing is delayed 18 months. Here’s what you need to know.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service delayed its decision about whether to list the monarch butterfly as endangered or threatened until December 2020 — 18 months later than the original deadline of June 2019.

Because the original deadline resulted from a litigation settlement, this extension had to be approved by federal courts and the other parties to the litigation. While certainty about a regulatory decision of this scope is always beneficial, this mutually agreed upon delay creates an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed.

Here’s what farmers, ranchers and their partners need to know about how the delay will impact monarch conservation efforts. Read More »

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