LoLa’s Flyers: How Drones Are Keeping Honeyberries Safe From Cedar Waxwings

WRENSHALL, Minn. – One may know Locally Laid Egg Company for its chickens and eggs, but they are also in the berry business.

Farm Lola is the first commercial farm in the U-S to grow honeyberry at a commercial-scale, meaning it can be picked and purchased by the public.  These honeysuckles are native to Siberia and Japan, but they can also grow in the Twin Ports’ climate.

It’s a process that has been going on for several years, and it hasn’t been easy for them.  One reason for this is a persistent bird species pecking away at their hard work.

“The challenge with the Cedar Waxwings is they stay up in the air, in the trees,” says farmer Jason Amundsen.  “That’s where they feel safest and most comfortable.  Then they dive bomb and take your fruit.”

The farm uses other deterrents to try to keep them away, such as speakers playing predator bird noises and the distress call of the cedar waxwings.  Unfortunately, they haven’t work well.

Amundsen estimates they lost up to a quarter of their berries last year, worth around $10,000 to $12,000.  “We are just kind of scratching our heads and going ‘how do we deal with these cedar waxwings that are perennially basically stealing our crop?’”

This year, a new approach was added in the form of a drone.  Amundsen says after a few purchases and another farmer’s technology knowledge, they have programmed a small drone to fly on its own around their 14 acres of berries to keep the birds away.

“It has patterns or missions that it flies that changes in term of the directions and altitude and speeds, and we can really patrol or buzz those trees where the birds hang out.”

They also have an employee who can fly it freestyle if any cedar waxwings are spotted.

With this new approach added to their deterrent efforts, a new challenge has emerged.  They need to keep a drone in the air whenever the sun shines while the honey berries are trying to grow.

The farm is turning to the public for help.  Amundsen says a half dozen people with their own drones have come out, but more are needed.  “If there is people that have a drone, or have a remote control airplane, that can come out and fly, we would be really appreciated.”

As of now, the drone appears to be working.  Amundsen says it won’t be known for certain until people start picking honeyberries.  “Last year that whole row from Plot 1 to Plot 2 to Plot 3 was not a berry to be had on it.  This year, if people can pick that row, that is a bellwether.  That says that the drone works.”

As for the picking season, it will open once honeyberries are ripe.  That could be as early as the Fourth of July, but that’s if the weather cooperates.

To learn more about Farm Lola, honeyberries, and possibly joining Lola’s Fliers, click here.

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