New laser technology proves successful for B.C. orchard

Growers at a British Columbia orchard are using new laser technology to deter birds from eating their cherry crops, an effort they say has so far paid off.

“It’s been very successful,” said Gayle Krahn, the horticulture manager with Coral Beach Farms in Lake Country, B.C.

The device called an Agrilaser projects green beams just above the orchard canopy when activated. The laser isn’t harmful, but when birds see it, they view it as a barrier.

“They see it as a danger zone,” Krahn said. “They would stay sitting on the post and watch it. When they did come in, they were confused and would fly just above the ground because they didn’t know how to get out.”

Coral Beach growers have been using the lasers for about three years as part of a pilot project with the Investment Agriculture Foundation of British Columbia.

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In their first year of testing, Krahn said the laser worked great. But in year two, growers noticed the birds became used to it.

“We realized we had to double-up in our bird control that year,” she said. “There really is no single silver bullet.”

In year three, however, growers programmed the lasers so that they would beam in different directions every few hours. This way the birds couldn’t get used to the beams being in one spot, Krahn said.

“That worked a lot better for us because there was a lot less birds coming through.”

The Agrilaser is a solar-powered device that shoots green beams over an orchard to deter birds from entering and eating fruit crops. | Gayle Krahn photo

Even with the lasers beaming, Krahn and her team had to control the birds by other means as well. Some were patrolling the posts and shooting the pests, while others set up bird guards.

“What I want to make 100 percent clear is that you have to double up; you can’t just use a laser,” she said. “It’s when we doubled up that we found we were successful.”

But she still stands by the product, which costs about $8,000 and requires solar power to operate.

She said the orchard that was equipped with the lasers lost only about two percent of its cherry crop, while the orchard that didn’t have them lost about 25 percent.

“It’s not cheap but it was worth it,” she said. “Losses can be very devastating so cherry growers have to do something.”

As well, other growers have taken an interest in the product.

Glen Lucas, general manager of the B.C. Fruit Growers Association, said more growers are becoming interested because the current method of solely trapping or scaring birds doesn’t work too well. “The starlings are still causing damage, despite the fact that we trap and humanely euthanize about 50,000 per year,” he said. “Damage hasn’t gone down, so it seems like growers are interested in adding something like this (lasers) to what they currently do.”

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