Pests parsimoniously, and persistently purloining plenty…

Not all the biodiversity on the farm is welcome right there on the farm. There is space for the weedy species over yonder by the ditch. Herbivorous insects, and in particular those choosing to chew our crops could get along nicely by the edge of the wood. White tailed deer could mosey down to the ditch with the weeds, and I’d not complain. Better still, the deer might learn to munch on weeds and spare the crop – that would be refreshing.

As these affronts to our husbandry efforts are not likely to end any time soon, best to get used to them, deal with them as necessary, and move on. Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) has been mentioned here before. Killing milkweed plants in a cropped field and shaking the fist at those along the ditch which go to seed turning their offspring loose on the wind to reinvade the cropped field… killing milkweeds is a regular endeavor. So last spring we got a letter asking if we would be so kind as to plant some milkweeds along the ditches that run through the property. This is not our property, and the landowner is a friend… we hesitantly agreed. The milkweed planting program is paid for by the federal government. Milkweeds are a principal component of the Monarch butterfly’s diet and habitat. One reasonably concludes then that Monarch butterflies have serious friends in high places.

In the spirit of good government spending we did point out to the powers that be there were already a good number of milkweeds encamped in the ditches under consideration. Not sufficient. Plant some more. I’d have provided evidence of Monarchs procreating on water hemp at the farm… but given the anticipated number of hoops… well, I chose to let that dog lie and get on with the several pages of instructions concerning the proper planting of milkweeds onto ditch banks in Central Ohio. There might be a dissertation somewhere on the subject.

A neighbor discovered our plot. I blushed. What else could I do? I knew how silly it seemed. But friends do silly things for friends. And as there were already plenty of milkweeds along the ditches… what harm an army of reinforcements? One could hope the Monarchs might say something nice about us in Washington.

Last month we were walking a field, killing weeds. There in one corner was a small stand of milkweed. There on one of the milkweed plants was a Monarch caterpillar. Oh goody. A whole ditch full of wild and cultivated milkweeds only a couple hundred feet away, and this dude takes up residence on a plant we want to kill. To his/her credit the milkweed was being chewed upon.

Monarch caterpillar - crop

Napping in the noon day sun after a meal of milkweed leaf.

But killing it wasn’t in the script. We killed the other weeds and left the one to its natural course. It hurt a little. Next summer someone will be walking that same piece of ground, hoeing weeds on a blistering summer afternoon, sweating and cussing the milkweeds. Sharing the thought that some of those milkweeds are descended from a single plant that was spared because of a caterpillar – not something I’m volunteering to do.

In the larger picture of American Agriculture in the summer of 2020 I shouldn’t be complaining too loudly. We have been blessed with sufficient rainfall, the crops look pretty good right now. In Iowa they suffered a horrific storm that flattened a serious share of their crops. A hurricane in Louisiana and Texas destroyed homes, businesses, and many local crops there. Too little rain in other parts is taking a toll on crop production. Making an allowance for a caterpillar, even if the allowance means future efforts on our part… making such an allowance might offer some evidence we’re not heartless. Indeed, if anyone wants to paint us as heartless… I have a receipt from the government as evidence we actually went out of our way to enhance Monarch habitat.

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