Using a laser system for non-toxic deterrence of birds and raccoons in an organic berry orchard

Final report for FNC21-1299

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2021: $9,000.00
Projected End Date: 01/31/2023
Grant Recipient: Blue Fruit Farm
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Jim Riddle
Blue Fruit Farm
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Project Information

Description of operation:

Blue Fruit Farm is a 5-acre certified organic perennial fruit farm located in southeast Minnesota. The land has been managed organically since 1976. Primary crops are blueberries, black currants, aronia berries, honeyberries, elderberries, and native prairie seeds.

Summary:

In 2021, we installed a solar-powered laser system from the Bird Control Group to deter birds and raccoons from eating our fruit crops. The laser system is non-toxic and does not harm birds or mammals. The pests detect the laser beam as a threat and they are trained to stay out of the orchard. For a number of years, we have used a net system to protect fruit from birds. While generally effective, the netting and posts are getting old and it is labor intensive to install and remove the netting each year. We have also used electric fencing, live traps, and a gun to catch and kill raccoons. The laser system was not effective at deterring raccoons. The laser was much more effective at deterring birds from eating our fruit, but there are improvements that we intend to make in how we use the system in future years to maximize it's efficacy. We hosted a field day on July 10, where we showed the laser unit to field day attendees. We anticipate that the laser unit will contribute to increased fruit harvests and profits for our farm, while serving as a teaching model to help other producers protect their fruit crops.

Project Objectives:
  1. Purchase and install laser bird deterrence system.
  2. Program system so that it protects all parts of the field, both day and night.
  3. Determine if laser system effectively deters both birds and raccoons.
  4. Compare 2021 yields with 2020 yields to assess impact of laser system on fruit yields.
  5. Compare 2021 income with 2020 income to assess impact of laser system on farm income.
  6. Host at least one field day to demonstrate laser system to other growers.
  7. Work with UMN Extension Educator to assess effectiveness of the system.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Annie Klodd (Educator)

Research

Materials and methods:

Proposed location of Autonomic laser system on machine shed roof in Blue Fruit Farm orchard

The laser system we installed is the Autonomic model, obtained from the Bird Control Group. The rack holding the laser unit and a solar panel was installed on the north end of the peak of the roof of the machine shed inside the orchard, as shown in figure 1, page 4, of the attached installation proposal from the Bird Control Group. The unit and solar panel were mounted and put into operation on March 30, 2021. The laser has a mounting bracket which was firmly attached to the building's metal roof, after additional framing was added to the underside of the roof. An electric line was installed to bring power from the solar panel to a battery bank, located in the northwest corner of the building. Once in place and operational, the laser unit was programmed and calibrated to assure that the laser beam reached all fruit rows in the orchard. The unit was programmed to run day and night. It can be controlled using a cell phone, and can easily be switched off when workers or u-pick harvesters are in the field.

 

Research results and discussion:

Birds, especially robins and cedar waxwings, love to eat fruit! Over the years, we have used fake owls and hawks, sound devices, and overhead netting to protect our crops. The laser system added one more tool to our toolbox. Thus far, it is not as effective as we expect it can be, and is being used in combination with netting and the Bird Guard sound unit. In the future, we hope that the laser unit alone will protect the crops. To achieve better results, we plan to start using the unit earlier in the season, and running more targeted programs aimed at specific crops, well before the fruits start to ripen. Use of the bird laser is limited in the month of July when we have workers in the field, so training the birds to stay away from the field earlier in the year will be helpful in maximizing the laser’s effectiveness. We also learned that juneberries serve as bird magnets, and since we only had 2 short rows of juneberries, we removed them to prevent them from attracting birds to our field.

Our field is divided into 2 units – East and West. When the birds started eating juneberries in the West unit, which is where most of our blueberry bushes are located, our farm manager, Ben, realized that the laser unit alone was not sufficient to protect the fruit, and he organized a crew to install the overhead netting. He continued to run the laser, and the combination of laser and netting successfully protected the blueberries in the West unit for our best yield ever - over 3400 lb. The netting was never pulled out on the East unit, and the rows of blueberries in the East unit suffered more fruit losses and damage from birds than the blueberries in the West unit. However, the blueberries in the East unit, which were protected only by the laser and sound systems, suffered less damage and loss than when protected solely by the sound unit in previous years.

It is difficult to precisely quantify the impacts of the laser unit, since there are many variables at play, including new farm managers, weather conditions, and the fact that our bushes keep getting bigger and more productive. We do know that our yields of blueberries improved significantly over 2020.

Actual Yields:            Blueberries                          

2019                              2689 lb                              

2020                              2169 lb

2021                              3421 lb      

The laser unit did not appear to deter raccoons. We continued to use a combination of electric fencing and live trapping to control the raccoons.

Participation Summary
4 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

4 Tours
1 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

230 Farmers
1 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

We hosted a field day on July 10, 2021. 230 people attended the event, which was held in cooperation with Lakewinds Food Coop and Driftless Grown Vendor Fair. During the July 10 field day, we conducted 4 hourly tours, and we showed and discussed the laser unit and it's solar power system during each tour. Unfortunately, UMN Extension Educator Annie Klodd, who was scheduled to speak at the field day, had car trouble and could not attend. Annie was on site for installation of the laser unit on March 30, 2021. We intend to offer a field day again in 2022 and will provide an update on use of the laser unit during the event.

Below is the write up, which includes pictures of the laser unit and field day highlights, we shared with Lakewinds Food Coop a partnership that emerged from this grant.

FNC21-1299 Jim Riddle - Laser and field day pics

Learning Outcomes

4 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Lessons Learned:

The laser unit and solar panel were installed on March 30, 2021. That concluded the physical part of the project. It was put into operation in early May, about 2 weeks before the honeyberries started to ripen. It was operated throughout the harvest season. We had a technician from the Bird Control Group on site for the installation. Otherwise, the unit has been operated by our farm manager, Ben McAvoy. Ben learned a lot about how to program, manage and use the unit, and has plans for how the unit can be used more effectively in 2022. Ben plans to start operating the unit earlier in the season, well before fruit starts to ripen, in order to train birds to stay out of the orchard. While the unit has not proven to be 100% effective in deterring birds, it provides a level of protection, and we observe birds moving away from the laser beam, is it approaches them. This tells us that is is effective at scaring birds, and, with better management, the efficacy of the unit can be improved. Based on our experience, netting remains the most effective methods for protecting fruit from bird losses. In addition, the laser unit does not seem to deter raccoons, so electric fencing and live traps will continue to be used to protect our crops from raccoons.

Project Outcomes

4 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
1 Grant received that built upon this project
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.