Laser Scarecrow Prototype

Final report for FNE18-893

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2018: $14,973.00
Projected End Date: 02/28/2019
Grant Recipient: Elliot Farm
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:
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Project Information

Summary:

In 2018, Elliot Farm was awarded a grant from Northeast SARE to design and manufacture an effective laser scarecrow prototype for under $500 so that this technology is cost effective for small farms, who may require multiple units to protect their crops.  Elliot Farm collaborated with Stephen Chomyszak, Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering & Technology at Wentworth Institute of Technology, and his student engineers, Nick Stratton, Chris Thierauf and Ken Costa, on this project. 

After piloting 9 units during the 2018 farm season, Elliot Farm reported a reduction in bird damage, recording a 20% damage rate in the height of bird season, down from the historical 80% damage rate. The farmers also found that if the lasers were used in conjunction with a bird distress call, the damage was further mitigated to just 8%.  The preemptive installation of the technology was vital to crop protection success.  The laser scarecrows and bird distress calls had to be up and running prior to the corn ripening to deter the birds from ever entering the field. Plans on this website https://deannaelliot.wixsite.com/laserscarecrow may be freely used to make laser scarecrows for personal use. With this technology, small farmers can increase the sustainability and viability of their agricultural enterprises.

Project Objectives:

Our project goal was to design and manufacture an effective laser scarecrow prototype for under $500 so that this technology is cost effective for small farms, who may require multiple units to protect their crops. For our farm we sought to manufacture 9 units for use in the 2018 growing season to mitigate bird damage to less than 1%.  The results along with how-to build your own laser manual was published, so other farmers can use this technology, increasing the sustainability for small farms in our region and beyond.

Introduction:

For the past 25 years, family-owned Elliot Farm in Lakeville, MA has provided southeastern Massachusetts with quality, native produce. The 50-acre family farm grows mixed vegetables, beefsteak tomatoes, and specializes in sweet corn. Elliot Farm’s roadside farm stand is open seasonally 7 days a week, and also offers a Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) program.  Founder Kenneth Elliot, 60, has been farming for over 40 years, and welcomed his two children into the family business at the ripe ages of 10 and 8, now 34 and 33.  Now, as proud co-owners, the siblings are determined to keep agriculture in their community for generations to come.

Unfortunately, sweet corn crop damage from red-winged black birds is threatening the viability of Elliot Farm and hurting other farms across the region. Despite tremendous efforts to keep these pests at bay, including balloons, bird distress calls, bird repellent, reflecting tape, and netting, in 2016 season, Elliot Farm lost 80% of its sweet corn crop during the height of bird season, roughly mid-July through mid-October, estimated at $18,000 in lost product.​

In search for an effective solution, Elliot Farm joined a laser scarecrow feasibility study, conducted by University of Rhode Island professor of plant sciences, Dr. Rebecca Brown in 2017. While the feasibility study proved that the laser scarecrow technology was effective, the prototype used broke many times throughout the season due to poor design.

There are three well-known laser bird repellent products currently on the market, ranging from $500 for a hand-held unit to $10,000 for an automated stationary unit, none are suitably designed for small farms. The $10,000 unit is arguably the most effective of the three, but it is not financially attainable. These products are especially financially unattainable for Elliot Farm since its 50 acres of crop land is spread out over 14 small fields. As such, the farm would need a minimum of 9 units to protect all fields.

In 2018, Elliot Farm was awarded a grant from Northeast SARE to design and manufacture an effective laser scarecrow prototype for under $500 so that this technology is cost effective for small farms, who may require multiple units to protect their crops.  Elliot Farm collaborated with Stephen Chomyszak, Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering & Technology at Wentworth Institute of Technology, and his student engineers, Nick Stratton, Chris Thierauf and Ken Costa, on this project.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Stephen Chomyszak - Technical Advisor (Educator)

Research

Materials and methods:

• January-February 2018: Met with engineer(s) to design unit. Stephen Chomyszak, Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering & Technology at Wentworth Institute of Technology, served as our Technical Advisor. He served as a liaison between Elliot Farm and the resources available at the Wentworth Institute of Technology. He recruited three student engineers, Nick Stratton, Chris Thierauf and Ken Costa, to work on this project. He helped us research the relevant laws, polices, and regulations surrounding laser technology, so we are in compliance when designing our prototype.

Legal

• February-June 2018: Collaborated with student engineers to finalize design and build 9 units.

• July – October 2018: Conducted field test units at Elliot Farm. We left the damaged ears on the stalks and evaluate the % of damage. Unfortunately, we could not afford to have a control field, but historically damage has always been about 80% during the height of bird season, mid-July through mid-August. Overall, we historically lose 15-20% of our sweet corn crop to bird damage over the course of the entire season. 

• November 2018: Compiled results and published a press release, equipped with a how-to build your own laser manual for farmers.

Research results and discussion:

Elliot Farm grew 40 acres of sweet corn; 30 acres of “Anthem” and “Obsession” bicolor sweet corn, and 10 acres of white sweet corn. Our sweet corn acreage is divided amongst 14 small fields. The planting schedule of sweet corn is determined by customer desires and production timing to allow a steady supply of corn throughout the sales season. It is critical to have a relatively steady supply available for sale each day from mid-July through at least mid-September.

During the height of bird season, mid-July through mid-August, Elliot Farm utilized the Laser Scarecrows and monitored bird damage rates. We harvested our sweet corn as it ripened, leaving bird-damaged ears on the cornstalks. Most sweet corn varieties only produce one viable ear of corn per stalk. When harvesting was complete, we’d go through and count the number of damaged ears in each section to determine the percentage of damage.

After piloting 9 units during the 2018 farm season, Elliot Farm reported a reduction in bird damage, recording a 20% damage rate in the height of bird season, down from the historical 80% damage rate. We also found that if the lasers were used in conjunction with a bird distress call, the damage was further mitigated to just 8% during the height of bird season.  The preemptive installation of the technology was vital to crop protection success.  The laser scarecrows and bird distress calls had to be up and running prior to the corn ripening to deter the birds from ever entering the field. Plans on this website https://deannaelliot.wixsite.com/laserscarecrow may be freely used to make laser scarecrows for personal use. With this technology, small farmers can increase the sustainability and viability of their agricultural enterprises.

Research conclusions:

Our project objective was to design and manufacture an effective laser scarecrow prototype for under $500 so that this technology is cost effective for small farms, who may require multiple units to protect their crops. Our goal was to manufacture 9 units for use in Elliot Farm’s 2018 season to mitigate bird damage to less than 1%.

We were successful in designing and manufacturing an effective laser scarecrow prototype for under $500, (see materials list: Copy-of-LASER) and we built 9 units and tested them at Elliot Farm this past season. Unfortunately, we did not achieve our ambitious goal of mitigating bird damage to less that 1%, but we did significantly decrease the percentage of bird damage to 20% damage rate in the height of bird season, down from the historical 80% damage rate. We also found that if the lasers were used in conjunction with a bird distress call, the damage was further mitigated to just 8% during the height of bird season.

Despite tremendous efforts to keep the birds at bay in the past, including balloons, bird distress calls, bird repellent, reflecting tape, and netting, in 2016 season, Elliot Farm lost 80% of its sweet corn crop during the height of bird season, estimated at $18,000 in lost product. The laser scarecrow prototype we developed is a major step in the right direction, and the most effective solution we’ve tested thus far. We hope this project will lead to future development with this technology. 

Participation Summary
1 Farmer participating in research

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

1 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
9 Published press articles, newsletters

Participation Summary

1 Farmers
Education/outreach description:

Elliot-Farm-Laser-Scarecrow-Press-Release1

In November 2018, Elliot Farm compiled results and how-to build your own laser manuals and shared them on a website (https://deannaelliot.wixsite.com/laserscarecrow), in our farm e-newsletter, and in a press release to the following outlets: 

• Modern Farmer

• Edible South Shore

• Wentworth Institute of Technology Communications Department

• Massachusetts Farm Bureau

• Massachusetts Department of Agriculture Resources

• UMass Extension

• Southeastern Massachusetts Agriculture Partnership

• Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA)

Learning Outcomes

1 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Key areas in which farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitude, skills and/or awareness:

After piloting 9 units during the 2018 farm season, Elliot Farm reported a reduction in bird damage, recording a 20% damage rate in the height of bird season, down from the historical 80% damage rate. The farmers also found that if the lasers were used in conjunction with a bird distress call, the damage was further mitigated to just 8%.  The preemptive installation of the technology was vital to crop protection success.  The laser scarecrows and bird distress calls had to be up and running prior to the corn ripening to deter the birds from ever entering the field. Plans on this website https://deannaelliot.wixsite.com/laserscarecrow may be freely used to make laser scarecrows for personal use. With this technology, small farmers can increase the sustainability and viability of their agricultural enterprises.

Project Outcomes

1 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
1 New working collaboration
Project outcomes:

Elliot Farm will now be using this technology to mitigate bird damage on their important sweet corn crop.  This will increase the sustainability and viability of their agricultural enterprise.

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.