Sounds like the Fourth of July every day

Propane cannons like this one are used in fields all over the country to scare off animals that can devastate crops. Some vintners have given them up after complaints from neighbors, but others say they are the most ecological way to protect crops. Contri

People living in the more rural areas of Gilroy are losing sleep and wondering about a regular loud popping noise that sounds like a shotgun going off. It turns out that farmers are using propane-powered machines that blast off at set intervals to scare away the birds and deer that would otherwise decimate their crops.
Neighbors have taken to websites to complain.
“As homeowners, we should have received prior notices about these loud noises–at the very least, they shouldn’t be going off all night long,” one resident wrote.
Another resident lamented, “So annoying.”
Police have heard the complaints, but say the noise is legal, according to Gilroy Police Sgt. Jason Smith. He said farmers are allowed to do what they need to mitigate crop destruction, according to the county’s Right to Farm act. That act even trumps local noise ordinances.
Tim Slater, owner of Sarah’s Vineyard on Hecker Pass, used to use the cannons, but got rid of them after neighbors complained. He’s replaced them with nets to keep birds away.
 “I owned a few of them, they are called Zon guns,” said Slater. “They are powered by propane–it’s very clever, actually. They don’t even have a battery and the idea is that they will go off every five or 10 minutes depending on the setting, and scare the living bejeezus out of anything nearby. They do deter birds from demolishing the crop.
“On very rare occasions, a farmer might forget to turn one off at dusk and it will keep going through the night,” Slater continued. “However in my experience this is very rare because, mostly, the farmers live on or near the land they’re farming.”
Farmers say the cannons are an organic deterrent, safer than using pesticides or shooting pests.
“Though the occasional noise of a bird cannon going off can be a bit irritating, this is an activity that has been going on in this area for decades,” Slater said. “I’d urge readers to think of the noise more as a signal that there is real farming going on in this area, following a tradition that goes back to the year 1798, and it’s something to be proud of and support. Complaining about the noises or smells of a nearby farm will inevitably rush that land ever faster into a new housing development.
“Anyway, I gave my cannons away a few years ago because they scared my dogs (and me, mostly), and have gone to the more effective but much more labor intensive and expensive option of bird netting.”
Local farmer, Tim Summers, agreed.
 “This year has seen the arrival of a number of European starlings, a very invasive, non-native species of birds,” he said. “The propane cannons, which should only be used during the day, are the most organic and humane way to protect the crops.”
Many neighbors supported the farmers.
“I agree the noise is a little annoying, but I’d rather put up with that than have the farmer sell his land to a developer and add a bunch more homes!” one wrote on the website, Nextdoor.  “Besides the farm was there before we moved in.”
Another added, “I live two houses from the field and am used to the sound. But note, some of the noise is firecrackers which always seems to be a problem in our neighborhood.”
One winemaker found innovation from necessity.
Tom Moller, winemaker at Satori Cellars agrees that the propane cannons can be annoying. “Years ago, when my wife, Sandy, was pregnant the cherry orchard down the road was firing them off like crazy and she was not happy about it,” said Tom Moller, winemaker at Satori Cellars. “So, I invented a kind of zip wire thing that makes little to no noise and is kind of fun to watch. But the best way to protect the grapevines is via netting, but it’s very expensive and hard to do, a really miserable job and a lot of birds get caught in it and die. Other remedies include kites that look like hawks or renting Falconers (really only feasible for huge vineyards) and the latest is those plastic air people you see at used car lots a lot, basically a scarecrow that moves a lot. Some farmers still prefer the propane cannons because they are relatively cheap, pretty effective and reliable. But they should not be run at night because birds don’t eat in the dark.”
Over at Aver Family Vineyards, winemaker John Aver, prefers netting to keep out the birds and has some other solutions.
“We have deer fence around the property having a farm dog or two also helps. For varmints , like ground squirrels, we use a product called a cheetah which produces carbon monoxide in the holes to eradicate them. It works very well if you stay on top of it but we still do get some grape loss from the ground squirrels. Some companies are selling kites that resemble peregrine falcons, swooping up and down to mimic them hunting. I don’t know how effective they are but they look interesting.”
Michele Swensen, director of hospitality at Martin Ranch Winery, has some friendly neighbors that help. “We are fortunate to have peregrine falcons and even a bald eagle family that keep smaller birds away, and we have deer fencing around our property.”
Birds have been so bad this year, that Jeff Fadness, owner of La Vie Dansante Wines, has had to use a cannon for the first time.
 “For some reason, probably climate, there are an amazing number of starlings and sparrows around this summer,” he said. “About two weeks ago they began attacking the vineyard so out of desperation–a large flock can destroy an entire crop in a day or two–we set up our single cannon in the vineyard. “For several days we ran it from about 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. to keep the birds out of the vineyard.  They seem to have left for happier and possibly quieter locales and we haven’t used the cannon for the past 10 days or so.”
We’re careful to shut it down prior to sunset so most people never hear it. In the country I think it’s just part of life.
 Slater pleads for tolerance from neighbors.
“Hopefully, you moved to this farming community to enjoy the rural lifestyle. Would you ban the bold aroma of a neighbor’s goat or the savory perfume of garlic coming from the fields? Would you deprive your children of the precious experience of seeing your neighbor’s tractor out in the fields, or riding their horse home along a treeline rural road? With a little patience; the harvest will be ripe soon and the vintage will be over; and we as a community can rejoice in the great wine we make in this area, in your very backyard.”

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