Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is a plant native to North America and has recently become the focus of conservation programs as milkweed is the sole food source for the Monarch butterfly larvae. Milkweed has long been a foe of agricultural operations and as a result, populations have been on the decline throughout the United States. To increase the abundance and scale of conservation plantings of milkweed, the Natural Resource and Conservation Service (NRCS) has developed an incentive program to compensate landowners for establishing perennial monarch habitat including planting milkweed. Landowners in northern Vermont have a unique opportunity to expand milkweed acreage by producing it as a crop. A textile company in Quebec, Canada has recently begun processing the silky fiber (floss) from the milkweed plant for use in a wide variety of oil/chemical absorbent and clothing applications. The floss has insulative properties similar to down due to its unique hollow fiber structure which also makes it incredibly light. Furthermore, the floss is equipped with a natural water-repellant waxy coating that allows it to be waterproof while absorbing hydrophobic liquids such as petroleum products. The Monark Cooperative, who enrolls farmers in production contracts and provides seed, technical assistance, and harvesting equipment to members, is looking to increase milkweed production in Quebec and Vermont. This opportunity will require farms to learn best techniques for cultivating milkweed as a commercial crop versus the techniques they currently know which is to eliminate at first sight!


Vermont, University of Vermont

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