Keeping Your Vineyard Free of Wildlife Pests

By: Cheryl Gray

  While admirably beautiful in their natural habitat, wildlife can wreak havoc in vineyards, unwittingly destroying a harvest not intended for them. Imagine a roost of more than a million pesky birds, and you have an immediate visual of an economically damaging enemy.   

Experts say that birds, rabbits and deer are among the most troublesome culprits. In response, vineyards worldwide have deployed a range of deterrents to protect their grapes, turning to manufacturers with innovative products designed to solve a potential challenge.

Oh Deer   

  One of the leading providers of wildlife deterrence is Pennsylvania-based Trident Corporation, in business since 1984. Its fencing and accessories are used not only in vineyards but also in national parks, public gardens and animal rescue projects. Trident services winery and vineyard clients across the United States, including Texas, California, South Dakota and South Carolina. Among its primary fencing products is one to deter deer. Cody Parks, Trident’s Marketing Specialist, touts the company as the largest distributor of deer fence systems in the U.S.  He tells The Grapevine Magazine why deer are so troublesome to vineyards. 

  “Deer seem to be one of the largest pests for any sort of outdoor growing operation, primarily because deer can wreak havoc on young plants. They love to eat young trees and plants as soon as they start to bud. This could stop the plant from growing and prevent it from producing a yield. It could potentially kill the plant entirely depending [on] how much of it was eaten. Even full-grown plants aren’t safe. Deer will rub their antlers on trees to remove the velvet which will remove the bark and expose the sensitive area of a tree,” says Parks.

  “We offer a range of fences in various sizes, strengths and materials. The fences are polypropylene plastic or varying degrees of metal from steel hex to welded wire to fixed knot. We also offer a few different post and gate options. Our most popular fencing for wineries/vineyards is the extra-strength poly fence. It is an effective deterrent and is cheap to cover large expanses of land. As far as other wildlife, we do offer certain fencing that helps protect against rodents.” 

  Parks says that Trident has earned its top spot in the industry by introducing innovative products. “One product we introduced into the market is the poly fence with reinforced bottom edge. The reinforced bottom edge makes it more secure when staking the fencing to the ground,” he says. “We are in a very niche market for our products, and the majority of places that sell this type of [deer] fencing source it from us. However, we do offer a tiered price list for some businesses, and all of our inventory is at an on-site warehouse.”  

The bird is the word

  Birds present a different type of worry for grape growers. Bouchaine Vineyards, located in the Carneros region of Napa Valley, California, is noted for its environmentally friendly approach to pest control. Bouchaine was the first Fish Friendly Certified vineyard in Napa Valley. It also holds Napa Green Land and Winery Certifications. 

  Bouchaine Vineyards features an integrated pest management program that includes bird boxes and raptor perches stationed throughout the vineyards. The bird boxes attract bluebirds that feed on pest populations, along with owls and hawks that control gopher damage. Chris Kajani, winemaker and general manager for Bouchaine Vineyards, explains how her company uses another grape defense method to protect crops from pesky birds.   

  “Our vineyard is surrounded by telephone wires which pesky birds sit on and then swoop down to snack on grapes all day. To mitigate this bird damage, we have daily site visits from our falconer from véraison through harvest. Blackbirds and starlings are terrified of falcons and will fly off when one is released. Our falconer will fly her birds multiple times a day if the bird pressure is high. We also provide demonstrations to guests who are interested in falconry throughout the year.” 

  While some vineyards rely on Mother Nature to handle their wildlife challenges, others turn to technology options. Sutton Agricultural Enterprises provides answers. Headquartered in Salinas, California, the company counts among its clients vineyards in Salinas Valley and throughout the country.  

  Sutton Agricultural began under another company name in 1956. It became a pioneer in bird deterrence, initially through sales of pyrotechnic devices. John Sutton bought the company in 1973 and continues as operations manager to this day. He says the most common bird pests include European starlings, horned larks, house finches, crows and Old World sparrows. According to Sutton, vineyards are an irresistible dining spot. 

  “One of the disadvantages of vineyards is their proximity to rural areas, rolling hills, open habitat. Put yourself in their shoes (or little tiny feet). You live near a vineyard, maybe in a grassy field or wooded area. Late in the year, when there’s very little natural vegetation to eat, a human comes out to the vineyard with a little thing that looks like a flashlight, holds it up, and smiles. This is the signal well known to birds. The time has come to feast,” Sutton says. 

  Those in the industry, he says, will recognize that “flashlight” as a refractometer and his description of how birds spot an inviting vineyard as a bit of well-known industry humor. However, there is nothing funny about birds swooping down and damaging grape crops. That’s where Sutton’s company comes in, armed with an arsenal of equipment for vineyards to scare off unwanted, winged dinner guests safely. Those tools include visual, sonic and physical deterrents. Its most popular products include exclusion netting, propane cannons, pyrotechnics and a variety of visual items.  

  “We have been the exclusive U.S. importer and distributor of Zon propane cannons and Zink bird-scaring pyrotechnics for more than 50 years. These two brands are leaders in their fields and have consistently provided the best propane cannons and pyrotechnics available on the market,” says Sutton.

  Pyrotechnics and cannons are designed to frighten and disorient birds and other wildlife. A sonic blast, for example, can be as loud as an ambulance siren or a jackhammer.  

  In addition to natural defenses, netting, fences and technology, there are even more options. Michigan-based Avian Enterprises, LLC, offers vineyard pest control solutions through a variety of bird repellants. The company’s trio of products – Avian Control Bird Repellent, Avian Migrate Goose and Bird Repellent and Avian Fog Force TR Bird Repellent – are manufactured in Michigan. 

  Avian Control Bird Repellent spray works by triggering an adverse but non-toxic reaction whenever birds get too close to vineyards. It stimulates the bird’s trigeminal nerve to create an unpleasant sensation, making vineyard grapes far less appealing. Growers use either a hand-held sprayer or an air blast sprayer to distribute the product on their grapes. It is usually applied once a week during bird season and through veraison.  

  “Avian Control Bird Repellent is one of the only liquid bio-pesticides on the market that is EPA registered for fruits and vegetables, including wine grapes,” says Avian Enterprises’ president, Jon Stone. “What distinguishes it from any competition is the enhanced efficacy provided by the combination of the active ingredient, Methyl Anthranilate, and the proprietary inert ingredients. When formulated together, [they] allow for greater effectiveness by having a more potent initial repellency and by exhibiting a much slower biodegradation rate. The end result is a much more effective and longer-lasting repellency on crops, including wine grapes. Methyl anthranilate occurs naturally and is found in bergamot, black locust, gardenia, jasmine, lemon, mandarin oranges and strawberries. MA is completely biodegradable, as are all of the ingredients in the Avian Control formula.   

  “Our winery/vineyard customers are located in every state that grows wine grapes,” Stone says, “predominantly California, Oregon, New York, New Jersey, Texas, Washington, North Carolina, Virginia, Minnesota, Michigan and Ohio. Most of our wine grape customers initially contact us after speaking to one or more of their friends or colleagues in the wine grape or vineyard industry who currently spray Avian Control Bird Repellent on their grapes during the growing season and have excellent results. Avian Control Bird Repellent has become the best alternative to netting.”

  Wildlife pest deterrents are as numerous as the pests themselves, four-legged or fowl. No matter the vineyard location, whether overlooking the San Francisco Bay or on a more rural terrain, pest control is an essential element to protecting grape crops year-round and critical to gaining maximum grape yields during harvest. Companies specializing in these services keep a lookout for cutting-edge methods to keep pace with the ever-growing demand.

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