The problem of birds damaging fruit crops is ancient, but a Western Australian orchard expert is using lasers to keep them at bay.
- This fruit grower says lasers are effective in bird control, but not as effective as netting
- It is estimated that the birds cause hundreds and thousands of dollars in damage to WA orchards each year.
- Fruit West calls for additional federal funding for netting reductions to address growing bird problem
Sam Licciardello grows apples, pears, plums, peaches and nectarines on his South West estate.
The birds were destroying 20 percent of the fruit on their trees each year, depending on the season.
Mr. Licciardello turned to laser bird deterrent technology as a potential solution.
«Last season was our first trial year. [the lasers]And we got an excellent result,» he said.
Where Mr. Licciardello tried the lasers, he managed to collect an extra 70 boxes of fruit.
The machine projects lasers onto fruit trees in a pattern and can work 24 hours a day.
Mr. Licciardello said the laser beam did not harm the birds.
The movement of light frightened the birds away enough to keep them away from the fruit and trees.
The laser machine can be programmed with a model suitable for the layout of the orchard.
However, after last season’s trial, Mr. Licciardello realized that the birds learned the laser pattern after 10 days.
«I would mix and change and [the birds] You’ll have to sit back and learn again,» he said.
«You really have to be on top of that and adjust your schedule to fit that.»
Mr. Licciardello said he believes the laser system will become even more efficient as time goes on.
Alternative bird control methods
Although bird lasers are efficient, Mr. Licciardello said the machine is not as effective as the protective net that has been used by farmers for years.
Netting has the advantage of protecting the fruit from hail damage or sunburn, but can be expensive to install.
Some existing orchards may have a layout that makes the nets uninhabitable.
Fruit West president Ann Lyster has grown apples and pears at Manjimup for over 30 years.
While not giving exact figures, Ms. Lyster says the damage caused by the birds costs fruit growers «hundreds and hundreds of thousands» of dollars a year.
He said it could cost more than $50,000 per hectare to install it, depending on the system and type of net, to prevent birds from reaching the fruit.
«You can never leave your garden,» said Miss Lyster.
«If you do, you’ll have a swarm of cockatoos potentially coming in and causing thousands and thousands of dollars in damage in a very short time.»
More funds needed
In 2021, the federal government allocated a total of $42 million in two rounds through the Horticulture Network Infrastructure Program.
Funding was distributed to Victoria, Queensland, New South Wales, Tasmania, the Northern Territory and WA.
A total of $4.65 million was allocated to WA and distributed to eligible producers.
Ms. Lyster said she would like to see more funding to help orchards install bird nets because birds have become such a major issue for farmers.
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