28 May 2022

Laser cuts bird damage by 90% in an apple orchard

Laser bird repellent

Priest Bros Orchards, a family-owned orchard based in Pakenham, Australia deployed the laser bird deterrent in 2020 to effectively solve bird damage to their apples. They experienced a significant 90% bird reduction on their farm.

Bird damage to horticulture in Australia

Bird damage is a significant problem in Australia with total damage to horticultural production estimated at nearly AUD 300 million annually. A survey of local grape growers found that bird control was costing on average $500 per hectare per year, with most techniques failing to adequately protect crops. If damage is greater than 60% the horticulture crops are often not worth harvesting. Netting is usually the most effective strategy, but it is expensive and often is either not practical or cannot be justified given current prices for some crops. Many Australian growers struggle to find a cost-effective and efficient bird repellent.

A permanent fix to bird problems – laser bird repellents

On the edge of the Gippsland region of Victoria in Pakenham, we find Priest Bros Orchards, a family-owned business that has been growing and selling apples for more than 100 years. The orchard has a large variety of apples planted on 80 acres, divided into three different fields.

Even though they have hail netting all over the orchards, the Priests were still finding birds damaging the apples throughout the year. They noticed that the birds were looking for small holes in the nets that are just big enough for them to enter and then find themselves a nice meal. The damage has been caused by a variety of birds, notably crows, lorikeets, parrots, blackbirds, and starlings. The pressure occurs all year but the main pressure lasts from February – June during the picking season.

Over a year ago Paul Priest, manager at Priest Bros Orchards, started looking for other solutions to their bird problem. He heard about the laser bird repellents at a fruit grower meeting he had participated in. He decided to do some trials with the small lasers first.

With the trials being very successful they decided to go for a more permanent and automated solution; the AVIX Autonomic Mark II. The laser bird repellent automatically projects the laser beam towards the birds. Birds perceive it as a physical danger and fly away to seek safety. They purchased their automated laser bird repellents through E.E. Muir and Sons, Bird Control Group’s distributor in Australia.

90% bird damage reduction & successful harvest

With the laser working on the farm for a year now, Paul could tell that the laser has been a big success: “one season in and it already paid for itself, a real return on investment.” Prior to the laser deployment, the losses due to bird damage to only one apple variety would exceed $100.000 a year. That number is now reduced to only $10.000. The damage to the entire orchard was many times higher. That is a reduction of at least 90% in just a year!

After such a successful year, Paul Priest was confident in acquiring another laser to cover the other part of his orchard. With the second Autonomic, they will be able to cover the whole orchard and protect it from birds.

Next to the big reduction of losses, Paul is also really excited about the user-friendliness of the Autonomic laser: “It is set and forget. No maintenance, you turn it on and don’t have to worry about it. You can go on with your daily job.”

Paul also adds that due to the different time slots, you have huge flexibility in when to use the lasers. You can set time slots for the times when there is the most bird pressure so it won’t be used unnecessarily. Due to the good positioning of the system (high up), the orchard always remains a safe working place for the staff.