The implementation of barrier strip cropping to mitigate bird damage on organic oilseed sunflowers

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2015: $15,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2017
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: sunflower


  • Pest Management: trap crops

    Proposal summary:

       Bird damage to oil-seed sunflowers is a major issue facing all farmers, including organic sunflower farmers. Oil-seed sunflowers are primarily grown for fuel (biodiesel/SVO) and food , both for human and  the bird-seed industry. Besides groundhog destruction early on and weed pressure throughout the growing season with subsequent combine issues, bird damage is the final scourge that can make a profitable year vanish over a couple of days to weeks.


       Late planting due to a wet or cold Spring, fields adjacent to tree-lines where bird perching is predominant ,and equipment breakdowns  resulting in later harvesting are all “real life scenarios" that can aid flocking birds in devastating an  oil-seed sunflower crop up to 50-90% of potential harvest. Many universities and extension services have spent countless hours and investment dollars on attempting to develop new, more effective techniques for the suppression of bird depredation with at most mixed results. This is a very real problem and it is extremely difficult to find a cheap, easy, efficient method to reach substantial remediation.

      This Study purports: If there is to be bird feeding on your organic oil-seed sunflowers not only because  it is expected but because effective organic deterrents are of limited  availability commercially, provide a ”channeled” feeding while at the same time disrupt and create an unease in  the bird’s feeding pattern.  Make things as difficult and confusing as possible, less conducive to buffet feeding , more difficult, and energy demanding! 

    Our study seeks to determine if the introduction of high, agriculturally valuable crops planted in strips, breaking the uniformity of the oil-seed sunflower field can disrupt bird depredation and ultimately increase the organic oil-seed sunflower yields. 
    The study is designed to test statistically whether there will be significant increase in yields and decreased % bird damage of the experimental versus the control plots of organic oil-seed sunflowers.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Here at Green Alchemy farm in Pennsylvania, Goldfinches are the primary granivorous birds  attacking our oil-seed sunflowers. Many Goldfinch Ethology studies have shown increased feeding with flock size, less vigilance (watching out for predators) individually ,but more with the combined  flock……more eyes to watch out.  However, the trade-off  is more energy  is utilized while flying more to find an untouched food source. Moreover, Increased vigilance behavior(watching out for predators)leads to decreased feed intake. Also, REDUCED HABITAT  VISIBILITY creates more vigilance/nervousness and less feeding!! Therefore, plant high barrier strips of agriculturally useful crops to channel , decrease flock sizes , decrease visibility making more vigilance with less feeding and ultimately making their  bird depredation energy demanding ,inefficient and confusing on oil-seed sunflower fields. In this study, the barrier strips will be 8-9 foot tall organic corn and 7 foot tall organic sorghum sudan grass that will tower over the sunflowers, but both will be of use for on-farm benefit  or  for sale to outside markets. However, both these crops must reach a height of at least 2 feet above the organic oil-seed sunflower  plants  during the post sunflower bloom to harvest period.



        On Green Alchemy Farm in Berks Co, Pennsylvania, we will plant Blue River Organics "Daytona "variety organic oil-seed sunflowers ( a medium maturity, high-oleic sunflower hybrid) at a rate of 28,000 seeds peracre in 30” rows. Planting will occur as early in May 2016 as feasible depending on weather and soil temperature. We will seed  100’ x 500’  Experimental  plots  of the Daytona sunflowers  which will  each be interrupted by barrier plantings of 20’ x 100’ blocks on a regular pattern  of Blue River Hybrid organic corn , 67H19, and  Blue River Black Hawk 12 organic BMR Sorghum  Sudangrass. The 67H19 corn will be planted in 30” rows at a rate of 30,000 seeds per acre in May. The sudan grass will be broadcast at a rate of 25-35 pounds peracre to, encourage a finer stem for hay, when soil temperature reaches 65 degrees. Similarly, a Control plot of Daytona Sunflowers will be planted at the same rate, on 30” rows  and same acreage as the total Experimental plots of Sunflowers, but in a single uninterrupted field . All sunflowers , corn and sudangrass  will be planted into a rotovated  Green Manure of cereal- rye ,mammoth clover, and Austrian winter peas, planted in the previous Fall of 2015.

       We will perform random sunflower sampling 2-3 times  between bloom and harvest.This would mean sampling between the R6 and R9 reproductive stages of the sunflower plant. This will be performed identically in all fields at the same locations with 50  plants  and the % of Bird damage to the seed head will be documented . The purpose of the 3 measurements is to determine if Barrier Strip- Cropping helps early, mid and /or late during seed maturation.We will also measure sunflower yields from experimental and control fields to determine if Barrier- Strip Cropping is advantagious in decreasing bird depredation and ultimately seed yield.


    The project will start in the Fall of 2015 with the planting of the green manure of cereal-rye at 3  bushels per acre and Austrian winter peas at 100 pounds per acre with a grain drill. Any soil amendment will occur in Fall or in the Spring of 2016. The project will progress from Spring planting to Fall harvest 2016

    Outreach Plan

    All Green Alchemy projects previously have been presented at sustainable agricultural conferences, such as NOFA-NY 2012, NOFA –VT 2012 and 2013, OEFFA 2009,PASA 2009 and could be further be presented at NOFA-NH, PCO’s farm fest and NOFA-MA . This study will help complete the long awaited Oil-Seed Sunflower Hand-book for Organic farmers, which will be available to SARE and other sustainable venues.

    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.