Plight of the blueberries: Going to the birds? Not anymore

SALEM, Ohio – Conservative estimates say birds eat about 10 percent of the North American blueberry crop.

Lowell Evans estimates the number to be closer to 20 percent. However, that was before he covered his 5 acres of blueberry fields in netting.

Evans’ Blue Jay Orchard in Geauga County, Ohio, is one of the few farms in the state using full field netting to keep away the birds.

Before using the nets last year, he estimated that 1,000-1,500 pounds of blueberries were lost per acre, totaling more than $10,000 in loss.

“Some people don’t even know what full production is like because they’re so used to having the birds,” he said.

Ohio State horticulturist and crop scientist Dick Funt agrees, saying nets are the “best, most effective way to control birds.”

Netting. Posts line the edges of Evans’ field and high tensile fence wires run lengthwise across the field at 10 feet in height. The netting is placed over the wires and spread down the length of the field.

The netting is made specifically for deer, however it was the only netting that Evans was able to get in the right quantity. He bought two 5,000-foot rolls of the netting from a company in Connecticut.

Evans estimates the nets keep 95 percent of the birds out of his blueberry crop.

Other options? With birds being so detrimental to blueberry production, nets are definitely the way to go, according to Evans.

He’s tried combinations of cannons, alarm control systems, balloons and streamers – but to no avail. The birds still ravaged his crop – pecking small holes in the berries, which make them shrivel.

Evans doesn’t hesitate to admit the nets are expensive, but harvesting an additional 1,500 pounds an acre is worth it.

Ohio State’s Funt agrees.

Taking labor and materials into consideration, Funt says his estimate of nets costing $600 a year is conservative. But he still thinks the cost is worth having a crop not ravaged by birds.

Labor issues. Four people can easily put the nets up within several days in late June, Evans said, and it only takes about a day for two people to take them down in the fall. He rolls them over a 20-foot pipe for storage.

Although Evans doesn’t have a problem getting help to put up and take down the nets, Funt said labor is what discourages many producers from using nets. They just don’t have enough employees or family help, he said.

Destruction. According to a report by Funt, some growers see up to 30 percent of their blueberry crop destroyed by birds. A flock of 5,000 starlings can eat a ton of food in just 10 days.

But a farmer can’t anticipate how destructive the birds will be in any given year. Some years are worse than others, Funt said.

And nets aren’t foolproof. They wear with time, birds occasionally get under them and strong winds make holes where birds can enter.

(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at khebert@farmanddairy.com.)



Get the details



* Blue Jay Orchard

      Lowell and Mary Evans

      17909 Rapids Road

      Hiram, OH 44234

      440-834-4318

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