Birds keep berry growers guessing when it comes to management tactics.
Eric Crawford, president of Fresh Results LLC, Sunrise, Fla., said birds are a real problem when it comes to blueberries, no matter where they are grown.
“From backyard gardens to commercial fields, they are a major problem. They just won’t leave the berries alone,” he said.
The problem is simple. Birds eat blueberries. Unfortunately, the solution isn’t as simple.
“Not one single growing region has been able to really figure out a way to avoid the issue,” he said, mentioning several different methods that various growers use.
“We’ve tried all sorts of crazy things, from loud speakers that sound like guns, to other noise makers and fake birds and there’s just no fail-safe way to do it,” he said.
One problem is that the birds aren’t stupid. Not only will they soon show up to an area after bushes are planted, but they quickly learn that the various control techniques are not real threats.
“They’ll hear the noise mechanism go off and just come right back,” Crawford said.
Frustrated growers can’t resort to simply shooting the birds because that would present a food safety risk.
Other methods include using netting, often used to protect crops from hail damage, which is a very costly technique. Crawford said nets are used mostly in Argentina right now, and are placed over a frame that covers a hectare of ground.
“It can be $50,000 per hectare, so as that process becomes less expensive, I think we’ll see it more,” Crawford said.
But even that isn’t foolproof.
“It may help deter the birds, but they are smart. They simply fly to the ground and walk under the net,” he said.
There has been some progress, though, and research is helping to find solutions that may work well in the future.
“There is a lot of research performed for bird-resistant sprays that actually cause discomfort to birds when landing on a bush but are virtually undetected by humans,” said Caylan Gingerich, blueberry procurement, Gourmet Trading Co., Redondo Beach, Calif.
However, Jim Grabowski, director of marketing, Well-Pict Berries, for Watsonville, Calif., doesn’t necessarily see birds as an enemy.
In fact, the company sees birds as a partial partner in its efforts to reduce pesticide use, even though they do cause some problems of their own, Grabowski said.
“Birds eat some of the insects or pests in strawberry fields, and so while they often damage the berries, we’ll deal with them as best as possible because they do yield some benefit,” he said.
In addition, not all areas have as many issues with birds stealing berries or damaging crops.
“Bird pressure can vary depending on region and some growers face this struggle worse than others. For instance, in the Pacific Northwest growers can face a crop loss of 10% or more to bird damage,” Gingerich said.