Cannons don't work that well!
By CHERYL ROSEBUSH
The start of blueberry season last week might be sweet news for lovers of the fruit, but for some residents the season is souring their peace and quiet.
Many blueberry farmers blast propane-fuelled cannons throughout the day to scare away birds from their crops.
Municipal bylaws allow farmers to blast every five minutes from 6:30 a.m. until 8 p.m.
For retired pilot and Surrey resident Doug Ogg, thatís a few blasts too many. The ones at 6:30 a.m. disturb my rest and destroy the whole rest of the day, he said Monday.
Ogg, who lives within earshot of dozens of blueberry farms said, the blasting has an amphitheatre effect around his home. He registered 54 complaints with the City of Surrey last year alone for detonations heard before and after the time restrictions.
Since the season started last week, the B.C. Blueberry Council has already responded to 15 complaints from residents in Delta, Abbotsford and Surrey about use of the cannons outside the allowed times.
Joining in the fight against propane cannons is Aldergrove beekeeper Roger Clapham. Both Ogg and Clapham are members of Ban the Cannons, a group of Fraser Valley residents lobbying the provincial ministry of agriculture to prohibit the use of propane cannons.
Noise is emotionally damaging and can be socially obnoxious, said Clapham.
He wants bylaws to go beyond the timing and frequency of blasting to regulate their decibel levels as well. And with the number of blueberry farms in the Fraser Valley on the rise, it is likely that cannon decibel levels will begin to disturb more residents in the area.
At the groupís first protest of this year on July 11, Clapham says Ban the Cannons will promote a boycott of all blueberries from farms that use propane cannons.
Ministry of Agriculture berry specialist Mark Sweeney says blueberry farmers arenít the only ones to use propane cannons. Any farmer with crops that are prey to birds, such as cherries, grapes, corn and dairy grain use them on varying levels to protect their crops. Raspberry and strawberry farmers are saved by the fact that birds arenít generally attracted to those fruits.
B.C. Ministry of Agriculture engineer Bert Van Dalfsen says the province takes residentsí concerns seriously but has no plans to ban propane cannons or even make current guidelines more restrictive. Propane cannons remain one of the most cost-effective devices for farmers to control birds, he said. They cost about $1,000 each, require only a couple of propane tanks to run over the entire season and protect up to five hectares of land apiece. Netting to protect blueberry bushes can cost farmers upwards of $7,200 per hectare.
But according to some farmers, there are cost-effective alternatives to propane cannons. Manjit Bains, a blueberry grower in Surrey, says cannons donít work as well as some maintain. Birds are smarter than humans and quickly become desensitized to the sound, Bains said. Instead, he uses a device that emits a birdís distress call. Bains says birds donít even come near his house anymore. Distress devices are about $900 each but can be hooked up to speakers so that farmers need only one to cover their entire field.
While Ban the Cannons describe the device as annoying, Ogg points out that, You hear a propane cannon seven miles away but you can only hear a distress device within half a block.
The agriculture ministry plans on testing the effectiveness of another bird-control system called the Silent Sentinel. Patented in White Rock, the device uses a series of flags strung over rows of berries that rotate and flap to scare birds. If found to be effective, the ministry will run field demonstrations for blueberry farmers to promote the device.
There are approximately 8,500 acres of blueberry farmland in B.C., a number that has grown by 3,000 acres in the last three years alone. Ninety-nine per cent of those blueberries are grown in the Fraser Valley in Richmond, Pitt Meadows, Abbotsford and Surrey. Abbotsford leads the pack with over 2,500 acres of blueberry farms, second to Pitt Meadows with 2,200 acres. Surrey comes in a close third with about 2,000 acres.
Last year, due to crop damage from a cold snap in March, the Fraser Valleyís total production fell to about $35 million. This year, total production is expected to rise over $40 million.
According to the B.C. Blueberry Council, off-the-farm prices this year are about the same as last year. People can expect to pay about $1.30 to $1.50 per pound.
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