The demands of growing produce sometimes seems never ending. It might feel like a continuous battle on several fronts; weather, bugs, weeds, diseases, and predators can overload the small producer. When you do finally get to put your head on the pillow, your thoughts turn to those pesky critters just waiting for you to nod off. Deer and Raccoons can devastate a garden. We may have an alternative to sleepless nights as your sweetcorn ripens.
Our operation, CARY’S YOU-PICK, produces various vegetables and herbs for local consumption. We target area consumers who desire fresh produce that they know where it came from, and also those who want to experience the joy and nutrition of hand picking the crops themselves without having a garden of their own. Consumers are allowed to harvest vegetables/herbs and pay through an honor system. We also, when time allows, socialize with the patrons sharing our techniques with them.
The you-pick is located in just outside of Kearney, Mo. and is close enough to the Kansas City metropolitan area to attract local residents. With plans for expansion, the existing “garden” consists of 1 ½ acres sitting in very productive Nodaway Slit Loam.
Conditions sometimes limit site selection for a produce garden and, as in our case, places it close to a wooded area with a creek. This wood/creek topography is populated with deer and raccoons which are the basis of this grant and research. It is well known that these two species are detrimental to the success of any garden. Most times this situation is dealt with through the use of expensive, elaborate and obtrusive fencing. As the size of the garden expands it becomes more cost prohibitive and not only restricts wildlife access but the people and equipment to work the garden.
Technology is a wonderful thing as it generally becomes less and less expensive as time goes by. Such is the case with laser technology. Commercially available are motion detection individual sprinklers that serve to fend off animal intruders on a limited basis. Reviews of the most popular systems indicate its primary use is to keep the neighbors’ dogs or cats from defecating in the reviewers’ yard, not an area such as an acre or two of produce production. The sprayers cannot differentiate between animals and people resulting in people being sprayed while accessing the area. The use of a sprinkler deterrent system is harmless to the wildlife intruders, is ecologically sound, and much more economical and aesthetically appealing than fencing. It also avails itself to easy expansion and contraction of the protected area. Research indicated that it is feasible to use a laser tripwire system to activate a sprinkler system and can be designed to be activated during periods of wildlife “attack” i.e. dusk till dawn. Our theory was that a simple perimeter sprinkler system triggered by a laser tripwire would harmlessly scare away wildlife intruders. This system consists mainly of the aforementioned sprinklers, medium intensity lasers directed at photocell devices that activate a timer and electronic water valve. Such a system would protect the small scale farmer/rancher who sustainably grows produce for market. Our intention was to develop such a system, with the assistance of the SARE Farmer/Rancher Grant Program, and to disseminate our findings and research through a dedicated web presence and the Lincoln University Extension. We are pleased to have had the assistance of the Extension through James Pierce.
Our program has economically resolved wildlife intrusion harmlessly and chemical free. We have nick-named it The Guardian Project for Face Book recognition (Facebook.com/TheGuardian.2014). Although we have been overcoming and refining design issues, the system works in a manner consistent with the overall desired results. Since becoming operational this spring, we have had zero deer or raccoon intrusions, actually we don’t even see any tracks inside the protected area, whereas last year we lost about 800 sweetcorn plants and some tomatoes to deer and raccoon intrusion.
Considering these commodities are our biggest draw to the You-Pick, protection is of the utmost importance and is the heart of this project. It is our biggest draw because most local consumers don’t even attempt to grow Sweet Corn for the simple reason that is so susceptible to wildlife damage. It is certainly worth the effort to be able to sleep at night knowing “The Guardian” is at work protecting your produce. Please visit and “Like” the project at Facebook.com/TheGuardian.2014 and also http://www.Facebook.com/CarysYouPick.
I was pleased to be asked to give a presentation at a NCR-SARE grant writing workshop at Drumm Farm in Independence Mo this fall sponsored by Lincoln University Extension. Part of this presentation, of course, included information about this SARE project so we were able to disseminate the Project’s success beyond the Field Day event and Facebook presence. Anyone interested is free to contact us for further information or, if convenient, stop by and see the system in action.
In conclusion, we feel the Project was a total success, beyond what we anticipated. Our next step is to further evaluate the system’s tendency to change behavioral patterns of the wildlife intruders to avoid the protected area and also make the system more economical. These challenges could justify further research.
We appreciate NCR-SARE’s and Lincoln University’s vision and commitment to support our project. This product was developed with support from the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture-National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA). Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed within do not necessarily reflect the view of the SARE program or the U.S. Department of Agriculture. USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.”
As mentioned before, the outreach for this program would be through the dedicated website, Lincoln University Extension, local grower’s associations, and hands-on field days. It is hard to estimate the number of people who might gain information through the website and the Extension electronically, but it could be in the thousands. Field days throughout the twenty-month project duration would be sufficient to reach 100-150 people.
Internet research and common knowledge has revealed no wildlife deterrent systems of this nature. As stated previously, most producers rely on fencing (that we are estimating for the area of research would cost almost $6000), and chemical deterrents which both have inherent short comings. There are sprinkler-based deterrents but on a limited scale. Reviews of the most popular systems indicate its primary use is to keep the neighbors’ dogs or cats from defecating in the reviewers’ yard, not covering an area such as an acre or two of produce production. Our program hopes to economically resolve wildlife intrusion harmlessly and chemical free.
It would be relatively easy to evaluate the success of this system. We will regularly inspect and document any evidence (or the lack of) of physical attack to plantings, tracks left by intruding wildlife, and sometimes even physical sightings. We would supplement this detection process through the use of several wildlife cameras positioned to record intrusion events. Our intent is to document evidence of this laser/sprinkler deterrent system in action. The success of this program and its potential use in the produce producing community will enhance profitability through an economical deterrent system, increase yields, and is ecologically sound.