Milkweed has long been considered a nuisance to farmers, since its sap is toxic to livestock. But now it is showing agrarian promise as a cash crop. The fine fibers that accompany the seeds, known as floss, have excellent insulative properties and can also be used to clean up oil spills. Several companies in Quebec are purchasing the floss, creating a new market. The fields benefit monarch butterflies as well since the milkweed is harvested after the caterpillars have fed on the leaves and after the butterflies have emerged from their chrysalises.
Heather Darby, an agronomist for University of Vermont Extension, has been partnering with Roger Rainville of Borderview Research Farm to test the viability of this new crop. Recently, Heather and her husband, Ron Hermann, decided to incorporate milkweed into their own diversified farm business. When 77 acres of tillable land across the road from their conserved farm came on the market in 2016, they jumped at the chance to buy it. Selling a conservation easement gave them the financial stability to expand their innovative farm. Last year they planted 26 acres of milkweed, which will take three years to fully establish.
Funded by VHCB (with matching funds from USDA NRCS).