As an ecologist, I believe in the importance of fostering biodiversity within our world’s ecosystems, including agricultural systems. Modern agriculture is intimately linked to biodiversity and as stewards of their land farmers are uniquely challenged with balancing the societal need for food with enhancing sustainability. Perhaps no species is more symbolic of the intersection of agriculture and conservation than the monarch butterfly.

Woman with butterflyEver since I was a child I have been in awe of the unique biology and seasonal migration of monarch butterflies in the eastern Unites States. Every year these tiny creatures travel thousands of miles, on a journey ranging from Canada and the United States to their overwintering spots in central Mexico.

However, along their journey monarchs suffer losses due to extreme weather, predators, pathogens, parasites and even climate change. Additionally, monarchs require abundant food resources, such as nectar flowers, and sufficient breeding habitat along their migration path which overlaps with key agriculture areas in the upper Midwest. Integral to monarchs’ success are milkweeds on which the butterflies lay their eggs and their caterpillars feed. At Monsanto, we participate in efforts within the agriculture industry and beyond to help foster an environment suited for a more resilient monarch population.

I have been fortunate enough to have represented the company in collaborations that focus on a three-fold mission: expanding high-quality habitat, providing outreach and education, and increasing the overall capacity of organizations to improve conservation efforts now and into the future. We are working with the brightest minds at universities, government agencies, and conservation groups and with farmers that actively promote biological diversity on their land.

Recently, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) announced 23 new grant awards totaling nearly $3.8 million this year for projects through the Monarch Butterfly Conservation Fund (MBCF). In 2015, Monsanto made a three-year, $3.6 million financial commitment to this public-private partnership, alongside NFWF and five government agencies. This contribution represents our desire to fund projects that allow organizations of all sorts to create sustainable models for biodiversity efforts over time.

Since its launch, the MBCF has helped direct more than $28 million to habitat and outreach projects. This allocation, spanning across 69 projects, has led to the restoration and enhancement of 127,000 acres and the propagation of 790,000 native milkweed/nectar plant seedlings.

But MBCF is just one of many initiatives we are working with to build habitats, awareness and capacity.

Monsanto helps fund the efforts of Monarch Watch, a nonprofit education, conservation and research program established at the University of Kansas. Monarch Watch places an emphasis on monitoring the monarch’s fall migration, as well as the production of free milkweed plants that are placed along the monarch’s migratory path stretching from Canada to Mexico.

We are also a founding member of the Monarch Collaborative, convened by the Keystone Policy Center. This collaborative works with national organizations representing farmers and ranchers, agricultural supply chain businesses, researchers within academic organizations, governmental bodies and conservation groups. By partnering with some of the top experts in biodiversity and conservation, we are helping to identify practices that support healthy monarch populations, especially in agricultural landscapes.

We also provide grants on the state level through public-private partnerships established across the Midwest. Groups like the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium and Missourians for Monarchs are guiding how farmers, ranchers, and other stewards of the land, like utility companies and state transportation organizations, can efficiently improve monarch habitat. Our support has helped these groups gain significant traction and funding since they began. Additionally, we have established diverse monarch and pollinator habitats on over 70 of our sites/facilities throughout the monarch migration route. Three of these sites are learning centers where outreach and education on monarch conservation is provided to the farming community.

Efforts to sustain resilient monarch populations benefit other species as well, since the same habitats that enable monarchs to thrive also support honey bees and native bees as well as many birds, plants and other insects. 

My job requires me to understand how important this work is in the grand scheme of things. As a Monsanto employee, I am incredibly proud of our efforts toward creating an environment where organizations of all kinds can come together and help foster biodiversity. As an individual, I am thrilled to be in a position to create positive changes that align directly with my personal values.