milkweed for profit?

Discussion in 'Gardening & Plant Propagation' started by MELOC, Jun 6, 2006.

  1. MELOC

    MELOC Master Of My Domain

    Sep 26, 2005
    i heard a friend say that milkweed is being farmed for profit. i always have some here and there, i usually leave it for the butterflies. is anyone familiar with milkweed and its market? any links?

    my mom was a child in the ww2 era and remembers helping to pick pods for fiber. i think my friend told me the milkweed being farmed is for the latex???
  2. Nick53

    Nick53 Well-Known Member

    Mar 6, 2003
    I'm not sure on the farming of it to produce a product, but we sell swamp milkweed at the store I work at for as an ornamental perennial. Don't move a lot-seems anything with "weed" in the name is a pretty slow seller. Mostly only sell that type of perennial to more seasoned gardeners in my area.


  3. Mid Tn Mama

    Mid Tn Mama Well-Known Member Supporter

    May 11, 2002
    I know that you need milkweed to raise rare butterflies, suppose you could look into that?

    Have you trimmed and replanted your mum cuttings? You should do that at Memorial day AND July 4--meloc. Remember?
  4. A.T. Hagan

    A.T. Hagan Guest

    Google is your friend.
    WIU Milkweed Research
    [Source: Peoria Journal Star]

    A weed is only considered a weed when it grows out of place. But when a weed is intentionally planted it can become a row crop, and perhaps financially productive for the region.

    Win Phippen, an associate professor at Western Illinois University, and several of his students have transplanted 3.6 acres of milkweed plants. The planting is part of Phippen’s research on using milkweed as an alternative crop. The milkweed is being raised for Natural Fibers Corp., a Nebraska company that uses the weed’s floss to manufacture hypoallergenic pillows and comforters.

    “The ultimate hope is to show the company that Illinois is a place to grow milkweed, so they are persuaded to locate [a manufacturing facility] in Macomb or the surrounding area,” Phippen said. The decision was made to plant Illinois milkweed because “the population we have here tends to outperform the ones found in Nebraska,” Phippen said. The Illinois type is also more disease-resistant.

    The milkweed project was jump-started by a $30,000 state grant from Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s “Opportunity Returns” program, which was designed to spur economic development around the state. The grant money has helped to pay for the planting of the seedlings in greenhouses at Bridgeway in Macomb, the transplanting machinery and labor.

    The approximately 1,500 flats of plants for the project were seeded mainly by Bridgeway’s disabled clients during the first week of April. Bridgeway has several large greenhouses outside its Macomb facility that are no longer in active use, so Phippen said the partnership was a natural one.

    “We approached several local producers, and they couldn’t handle the number of plants we needed without denting their own production,” Phippen said. “It just made sense, because Bridgeway also had the labor force necessary to get the flats filled and seeded.”

    Bridgeway staff then took care of thinning the plants out and watering the flats over the first few weeks. The plants were transferred to WIU by the truckload. Bridgeway Training Services President, Tom Colclasure said Tuesday he’s proud to be a part of the project.

    “This enabled us to do something positive for the community and for people with disabilities,” Colclasure said. “This was a good match between WIU and us, and we were pleased that the crop turned out so well.”

    Phippen and several of his students planted the seedlings about 12 inches apart on farmland that’s being leased from Jerry Brookhart of Macomb. The machine used was a modified tobacco planter that puts the plants in 30-inch rows, two rows at a time. The planter can fit about 30,000 seedlings per acre and adds one cup of water to each planting.

    No money will be made from putting the crop in the ground this summer. The plants will establish themselves and die, setting up a perennial root system for more prosperous growth next year, Phippen said. The hope is that income from the second year’s growth will support research in future years. Blooms on the milkweeds aren’t expected until the second year. The plants typically flower with pink blooms from July to August and are harvested in September with a corn-picking type machine. The full-grown plants are between 6 and 7 feet tall, Phippen said.

    Pods taken from the weeds are dried, and Phippen said each acre should produce about 3,000 pounds of dried pods. The floss sells for between $3 and $5 per pound and each acre nets about 900 pounds of floss, and well as 900 pounds of seeds.

    The study acres could have been planted directly with seeds, but Phippen said the yield should be improved starting the plants at a more developed stage. The seeds from mature milkweeds can be replanted for other research or highway and prairie restoration projects. The seeds also can be sold to the cosmetics industry and ground up for vitamin-E-rich oil. The plants also attract a large number of butterflies, mainly monarchs.

    Phippen has about five acres of test plots of milkweed in various stages and growing conditions at WIU and at Spring Lake, near Macomb. The plots are studied for optimal planting distances and other conditions such as disease and weed-control issues.

    There is also collecting milkweed seed for ornamental plantings and for the folks who want to grow it to feed caterpillars.