Companion Planting of Sunflowers in Vineyards for Pest Bird Management

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2021: $25,670.00
Projected End Date: 01/31/2023
Grant Recipient: Walker Homestead Farm & Winery, INC
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Coordinator:
Kristy Walker
Walker Homestead Farm & Winery, INC

Information Products


  • Agronomic: sunflower
  • Fruits: grapes
  • Animals: Birds


  • Pest Management: integrated pest management

    Proposal summary:

    An expensive and labor-intensive practice of vineyards is to net the vines close to harvest to deter birds. That said, birds still make their way under the nets and peck through the nets at the grapes that are close to the surface.  Damage from the birds allows secondary infections to establish in the clusters rendering them unusable for making wine. The nets also compromise quality of the grapes by causing physical damage themselves allowing secondary pathogens to establish. Nets make it difficult for spraying and mowing. Last season, the Walker Homestead failed to net the vines, but with a sunflower backdrop to the vineyard, discovered that the birds preferred the sunflowers to grapes and ignored the grapes. We propose a study across three distinct farms to determine if companion planting of sunflowers next to vineyards along with one application of avian spray is a more effective method to managing avian defense. Our proposal supports sustainable agriculture, as we believe our bird management approach to be ecologically sound, more profitable, less labor, and socially responsible for Integrated Pest Management (IPM), wildlife preservation, and is a holistic/systems approach to farming.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Evaluate the effectiveness of companion planting sunflowers for bird control in vineyards.
    2. Compare overall labor and profitability between netting and companion planting of sunflower for bird control in vineyards.
    3. Abstract farmers’ perceptions of pros/cons of the two options
    4. Share findings through podcast, videos, and presentations at annual farmer conferences.
    5. Measure adoption rate of sunflower companion planting for bird control in vineyards.
    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.