If there is one of God’s creations that has constantly been a thorn in the flesh of table grape growers, it is birds. Every year, just as the grapes are turning sweet and juicy and ready for the harvest, swarms of them descent on the vineyards where they can cause a great amount of damage.
On one of Fredo’s first visits to Paarl back in the 1970’s when he was still a journalist, he can remember hearing what sounded like gun shots in the Valley. “That’s to scare away the birds, they mess up our grapes’” explained one grower.
Throughout the years all methods to keep them out of the vineyards have been of little help. “The little buggers keeps coming back,” explained the frustrated growers.
Indeed, the loud bang that would go off next to me and scared the living day lights out of me, seemed to have little effect. After a few scrambles and a flurry of wings early in the morning, as the day wear on, the gunshot, which is actually caused not by a real shotgun, but a contraption installed in the orchard and which were timed to go off very few minutes, the birds would hardly leave their perch on top of the juicy bunches when the ‘gun’ fired. They would literally only jump up, and then settled into their meal again.
At one time a new method was tried. A rubber band was stretched over the vineyard and when the wind blew, it made an unearthly noise, probably associated with one of those indigenous instruments the Australians play. Soon the birds got used to the rubber band and it was back to square one.
One can understand the frustration of the grape growers. These bunches had been cared for every day for months and now that they are ready, those sharp beaks would do untold damage. These days, on the export market, a carton of table grapes can easily fetch between R150.00 and R200.00. If you lose only ten bunches, it is a great loss.
Why is Fredo going on so much about the birds and the grapes? Thanks to his friends at the Berg River Table Grape Association, he was given some old documents from meetings of the Association back in the 1970’s. That is where he came across the ‘war on the birds’ as it was termed in the report.
At these meetings the growers spelt out in no uncertain terms what should be done with the birds. Fredo will not discuss all this here – you will have to wait for the day we publish the book on the history on the South African table grape industry next year. It is sufficient to note that the comments may affect sensitive readers.
At the same time researches were instructed to do some investigations and experiments on how the matter could be handled.
As far as Fredo can establish all those efforts had very limited success and today one has to accepted the fact that where there is sweet and juicy fruit, there will be birds who would also like to enjoy their share of the harvest.