Dan Petker is using every tool available to prevent birds from damaging his crops
By Jackie Clark
Dan Petker farms in Norfolk County, right next to Lake Erie and the Long Point marsh. This landmark attracts a multitude of feathered, unwelcome guests who’ve been causing damage to Petker’s crops.
“Long Point itself is a primary north-south migratory route in the spring and in the fall,” he told Farms.com. “It’s prime habitat for black birds, geese, sandhill cranes and swans … it’s a major stopping ground as they work their way south or north. I just happen to be farming in the area.”
However recently, the birds seem to have stuck around through the winter.
Usually, the birds “come through in November-December, they find a green field, which is my wheat field, and the geese and the swans stop and they have a snack, and so do the sandhill cranes,” he explained. However, with milder winters, migratory patterns seem to be changing.
“They’re always here right now,” he said.
The birds do damage to corn, soybeans, and winter wheat.
“I will lose 20-40 bushels/acre depending on what corn variety I’ve planted because either it flowers sooner or it’s got a very loose husk,” Petker explained.
Currently, “my wheat, it’s a 90 acre field, and if they haven’t pulled the wheat all the way out they’ve grazed it completely to the ground on 45 to 50 acres of it now,” he added. “This wheat should come back but there’s a definite yield hit now. The crop went in perfectly, it was absolutely amazing and now it will not be that. Come springtime when (the birds) are still here and my corn and soybeans are starting to emerge, the geese and the swans will graze at the fresh growing green. The corn can recover from that. But the sandhill cranes will come and pull the plants out and eat the seed.”
Other farmers in the localized area have the same trouble.
“My neighbour who lives a concession north of me, away from the lake … if I scare the birds out of my field, they pick up and they fly to his field,” Petker explained. According to the birds, “these are the two best restaurants in Norfolk County.”
However, “if you drive 10 km north it’s not an issue at all.”
Petker has attempted to discourage the birds with flags and aluminum pans that make noise in the wind, however “they quickly become used to it,” he said.
“What ultimately helped was I applied for a nuisance kill permit,” he explained. “So, I can kill five geese and two sandhill cranes per week and leave the carcasses where they fall. I take it upon myself to go check if they’re banded and I get the band code and send it to my conservation authority.”
The process to obtain the permit was simple, he added.
The officials he spoke with “felt that this process is here for a reason and … were wishing that more farmers went through the process. Not that they want to see more birds die, but more just because it helps everyone benchmark what’s going on out here,” Petker explained.
“All my friends who hunt would love (a hunting season), but I don’t know if that would be enough to make a difference,” he added. Even with his nuisance permit, he has to check on his fields frequently to keep them away.
“It sucks, but if I don’t do something the whole field would be grazed off,” he said. “I’m vocal on Twitter because I think it’s hilarious and tragic all at once, it’s a fun story to tell.”
Ultimately, products such as Avipel, a non-lethal bird repellent, would make a huge difference, Petker said.
Farmers “can use it in the U.S. and they use it in sweet corn fields,” he explained. “I would love to have access to that product, and we don’t have it.”
In Northern Ontario producers were asking for emergency registration and access because the sandhill cranes are very destructive to those crops.
“That would be a wonderful tool,” Petker said.
Jun Zhou\iStock\Getty Images Plus photo