What To Do About Berry Cannons

By August 7, 2013Issues, Mike Archer

By Mike Archer. Before dragging ourselves through another fight over the use of propane cannons to protect berry crops let’s remove some of the politicking.

Let’s forget who made what promises to which interest group and deal with the problem in a principled, fact-based fashion – a complete paradigm shift for Abbotsford … I know.

Councillor John Smith’s attempt to resolve the issue went too far and, as a result, failed.

First; let’s eliminate the validity of the complaints of those who moved near a berry farm, knowing full well it was a berry farm and either did or might use propane cannons to ward off birds. Like those who move next to an airport and then complain about the planes … sorry but your complaint is simply not worth considering.

Second; let’s eliminate the berry farmers who converted their property to a berry farm knowing full well that their neighbours, some of whom have livestock, horses or animals whose health is threatened by the noise. Your right to do business should not impede on someone else’ right to do so especially when they were there first.

Councillor John Smith

Councillor John Smith

Third; let’s eliminate those who are not damaged in any way by the cannons but simply wish they weren’t allowed or generally think somebody ought to do something about something right now. If you aren’t directly involved … butt out.

Fourth; let’s get some answers to the question of the need for the cannons. There are a variety of methods being used by different farmers to protect their crops. Whether they use netting or foil strips, some berry farmers seem to manage without using propane cannons.

There is some argument over the merits of each of the methods as well as the costs. Let’s determine the validity of those arguments and move forward accordingly. The general prevailing wisdom seems to be that the best long term solution to keeping birds off of berry crops is netting. If that can be established then an outright ban might be the easiest, fairest and most proactive solution.

Councillor Henry Braun

Councillor Henry Braun

Rochelle Baker of the Abbotsford Times revealed this week that among the things being proposed in the staff report to council on the issue are: a requirement that growers using cannons post notices in order to make it easier to identify operators violating guidelines. The Times story also said that, “City bylaw officers would also be empowered, after written warnings, to levy a series of progressive fines up to a maximum of $1,000 for bylaw violations.”

If we are actually going to enforce any bylaw against propane cannons council comes up with, we have to ensure that the fines are substantial enough that they do not just become an acceptable cost of doing business for those who ignore the bylaw.

If, as Councillor Henry Braun has argued, rules and regulations over audible bird scare devices (ABSDs) are not likely to be accepted by the provincial government if they go beyond its own guidelines, let’s not waste any more time pontificating and playing to the cheap seats and exceeding our jurisdiction with a bylaw which will clearly not work.

We’ve already got lots of those.

Editor’s Note: Below is a rather simplistic but useful discussion of the pros and cons of the most common methods of bird control for berry crops, albeit from a gardeners point of view. Comparison to large scale berry farm operations may prompt different conclusions.

Protecting Your Berries from the Birds

By Colleen Vanderlinden.

[excerpt] Flash Tape
Flash tape is basically what it sounds like: strips of Mylar or foil tape that flutter in the breeze, scaring the birds off. The birds don’t like the shine of the tape, and anything that moves is good for keeping birds out of the area.
Pros: Foil tape is inexpensive, humane, and relatively unobtrusive.
Cons: If the birds are hungry enough, they’ll risk going near the tape to get to a buffet of fresh berries.

CDs/Pie Plates on a String
The idea behind this method is the same as the Mylar flash tape: shiny, moving objects will frighten any hungry birds from the area.
Pros: Movement and shine will frighten most birds off. This method also provides a great opportunity to recycle, since you can use old CDs and used aluminum pie plates.
Cons: This is almost anything but unobtrusive. And, as with the flash tape method, if birds are very hungry, this method won’t deter them for long.

This is probably the most fool-proof method for keeping more of the berry harvest for yourself. By draping netting over your berry bushes and small fruit trees, you prevent birds from getting at the vast majority of the berries.
Pros: Birds can’t get to most of the berries. Bird netting is fairly inexpensive.
Cons: Small birds may get inside the netting and get caught. Also, the berries on the outer edges of the plant will still be accessible to the birds, so you’ll have to accept some losses.

The idea behind these is straightforward: birds see a predator (in this case an owl or a human) near the berries, and they won’t go near them. To make this work, you need to move the scarecrow or owl to a new position in the area every few days. Even the birds will figure out eventually that the owl isn’t moving.
Pros: Scarecrows do a decent job of scaring many birds off. If some part of the scarecrow moves, such as a tie that flutters in the breeze, it will work all the better.
Cons: Birds will realize that the owl or scarecrow isn’t chasing them off, and will eventually risk a trip to your berry patch.

Making noise will frighten hungry birds away.
Pros: Noise does frighten birds off.
Cons: It can be annoying for both you and your neighbors and cause losses to other farmers. Also, once the birds get used to the noise, they will no longer be shy.

No matter which method you use, you can be guaranteed a measure of success in protecting your berry or grape harvest. The best long-term solution, by far, is to protect your berry bushes or grapevines with netting.


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