of video cameras and the scarecrow.” White and his partner are now
running tests on a ‘diversion feeding’ strategy whereby they take pruned and/or rejected berries, stack them at an already-picked field and encourage predatory birds to eat there, all the while using UAVs to keep up the pressure on the birds to stay away from the bushes. They hope to know soon just how successful this idea is. The Farmers’ Bird Deterrent crew is also focusing on another service, developing drones to pollinate blueberry plants. They have submitted a proposal which if approved will provide funding to prove out their theories.
“The most effective pollinators of blueberry plants are bumblebees,” explains White. “However, most growers use honeybees to pollinate their crops because they are easier to get in a colony.
“The technique bumblebees use to extract the pollen from the flower bloom is unique. The bloom faces downward and the bumblebees hold on to the flower and then they vibrate their wings and shake the flower and the pollen drops off the anthers onto
their stomach. Then they move on to another flower and the pollen rubs off pollinating it. So the bees extract the pollen by shaking the flower, basically. “We got to thinking about how
much we could shake those same flowers with the downdraft from our drones.”
They have already invented a pollen trap – a big device about two feet by three feet that will grab any airborne pollen. When the pollen is removed from the trap it will be put into another device called a pollen distributor, which is still under development.
It is basically a device that looks like
a small bomb and has a remotely operated motor located in the back. The pollen is fired out one end of the bomb, which has a four-inch diameter hose on it that curls up at the bottom. When the drone flies by the blueberry plants the hose drops down and the pollen shoots up into the downward- facing blueberry flowers. The pollination idea has been proven to work in a lab and White says they now hope to get the funding from the B.C. Blueberry Council and the Ministry of Agriculture for field
trials, which no doubt will present challenges that can’t be produced in a lab. White was a teacher at BCIT for a number of years and decided he wanted to do something different. “I’ve always been interested in aviation and when I saw these drones coming on to the market, coupled with fact that they had come down in price making them affordable for small companies, I started looking at what they could be used for.”
After some study he concluded the industry that presented the best opportunity for drone use was the blueberry industry. This led to a closer look at the potential and determination that one of the principal needs of blueberry farmers was a better way to reduce/and or eliminate the damage caused by predatory birds, especially in light of the growing opposition to cannons. So White and Sveinsson formed a business alliance and launched the idea of controlling predatory birds in blueberry fields using aerial drones, which has proven to be “a very successful operation,” states White.
British Columbia Berry Grower • Spring 2015 11
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