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Vineyard Wildlife Problems

by Staff Writer - B. Shaughnessy | January 29, 2012

Any agricultural operation faces challenges from any conceivable front. The greatest challenge for any operation is the unforeseen challenge or the uncontrollable challenge. With respect to agriculture, challenges in this category include crop destruction due to wildlife problems. Grape growing is by no means immune to this frustrating challenge. As grape vines produce sweet edible berries, wildlife is instinctively drawn to the vineyard when foraging for food. Implementing an effective deterrence program is the only way for the vintner to protect the grape crop.

Wildlife problems can be isolated to a few specific vertebrate animals. Birds, deer, bears, raccoons, rabbits, groundhogs and foxes all create problems for the vineyard. Thankfully, vintners have a wide variety of options for deterring and eliminating wildlife problems. Of the various options available to vintners, it is important to realize that properly deterring wildlife is far more preferable than the killing of wildlife. This is mainly due to the fact that it is impossible to eliminate all wildlife populations from a specific area. Also, local legislation concerning the killing of some species may present a problem. If it is discovered that an indigenous or endangered species is causing a problem, then killing the species is most likely off limits due to environmental protection laws.

Birds have long posed a challenge to fruit growers and vineyards are no exception. Many species of birds are fond of ripe grapes. The fact that these aviary foragers travel by flight makes an effective deterrence program difficult to manage. Another disadvantage to bird attacks on vineyards is that damage can be quite high given the birds ability to move in and out of the vineyard quickly. Flocking birds such as starlings can be particularly destructive. Other birds such as robins, finches and mockingbirds can present problems as well. Even birds that seldom fly can cause significant problems. In some areas of the eastern United States turkeys have been known to cause problems for vintners. Vineyard bird damage can be identified by peck marks on the berries and selective feeding of berries on the cluster. In most cases the rachis--the stem of the bunch of grapes--can still be found attached to the vine. Thankfully solutions are available and are discussed later in this article. In addition to aviary threats, the vintner must also develop a deterrent program for terrestrial threats.

In different regions of the United States, different terrestrial animals cause damage in different ways. This is due to regional population differences between animals. Quite possibly the single biggest headache in terrestrial wildlife could be damage caused by deer. Coming in at a close second would be bear and raccoons. After this small mammals such as groundhogs and rabbits can cause problems. Deer are of particular concern as the white tailed deer is extremely adaptable to different surroundings. As a testament to their adaptability, deer have learned that they can survive in suburban areas where there is no danger from hunting and where people generally have a pet-like attitude toward them. Due to this problem it is very important that a deterrence program concerning deer be implemented before the vineyard is planted. As deer retain knowledge about food sources, isolating a vineyard before it is developed ensures that the vineyard will remain a curiosity to deer. The same tactics must be applied when dealing with bear and raccoon problems. Deer damage can be identified by the presence of torn leaves, stems as well as the rachis being destroyed. Raccoon damage can be identified by mud on the trunks of vines as well as berry skins being found under the vines.

Effective solutions to both aviary and terrestrial wildlife problems are available and if implemented properly, can be very effective in protecting the grape crop. With respect to bird problems, solutions such as noise cannons, bird distress calls, bird nets, reflective material and balloons of predators are available. It is important to realize that the scare tactics reviewed in the last sentence must not be static. Sights and sounds must be rotated as well as unpredictable so that the birds do not become acclimated and realize that no threat exists.

Perhaps the greatest protection from bird damage would be the use of netting material. Netting material is placed over the grape vines and acts as a barrier so that the birds cannot reach the grapes. The use of netting does not guarantee 100% protection from birds. Some very determined birds will work to find holes in the netting material and thus gain access to the grapes. Also, different grades of netting are available with different mesh spacing and grades. The finer the mesh used the less chance a bird will gain access to the grape.

Despite the differences between aviary and terrestrial wildlife there are some common deterrence systems used between the two. Deterrence systems for terrestrial wildlife include sound scare tactics, scent repellants and fencing. Like the scare tactics reviewed for birds it is important that these tactics not be static. Both deer and bear will quickly learn that sounds pose no threat if they are not random. Scent tactics can be used to deter deer from an area, but scent material must not be applied to edible food as scent material is considered a pesticide and very few scent materials are registered for use with food products.

The best possible protection against deer, bear and raccoon would be fencing solutions. Two types of fence are available to the vintner. The first type is a non-electrified woven mesh fence approximately 12 feet high. The second fence type is the high voltage low amp 5-foot high pulsing electric fence. Out of the two fence types, the electric fence type is the most economical. With an electric fence, combinations of positive and negative wires are suspended between fence posts. For protection against raccoons additional wires may be run lower to the ground. The wire that is used with the fence is of the high tensile type. Barbed wire is never to be used in an electric fence. Initially costs for fence construction may be high but when factoring in the fence's life of about 20 years, the set-up expense becomes well justified. In operation wildlife will approach the fence and get a good non-lethal jolt from the electrified wire. This trains the animal to avoid the fence and thus saving the grapes of the vineyard.

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