Scarecrow 2.0: Laser-focused on crop protection

Laser technology keeps the birds away

Bird Control Group has a humane way of chasing away birds: with lasers. They not only protect fields and orchards, but also oil platforms and car dealerships. Rabobank supports the company in realizing its growth ambitions.

Whether it is fruit orchards plucked bare, drilling platforms with machinery covered in droppings, or car dealerships that have to wash all of their cars every so often to keep them looking like new. Birds are wonderful creatures, but not everywhere, all the time. They eat crops, poop in inconvenient places, and can transmit diseases to other animals. Scarecrows, nets, noisemakers and predatory birds are not enough to prevent all of the damage that birds cause to the Dutch agricultural sector every year: around 30 million euros.

In the northern provinces and North- and South Holland, birds mainly cause damage to grasslands; in the south it is fruit growers who suffer most from birds. “Wherever you have water and migration routes, you have problems with birds,” says Steinar Henskes (28), owner and Director of Bird Control Group in Delft. “It’s not unusual for farmers to lose 10 to 50 percent of their harvests to birds.”

Henskes, who studied electrical engineering and business in Delft and Amsterdam before becoming an entrepreneur, discovered a new, humane method to chase away birds purely by accident. “My company was initially specialized in light and lasers for machines for alignment or indicators,” Henskes explains in an office for technical start-ups on the outskirts of Delft. “By accident, we discovered that birds naturally try to escape from certain kinds of light. Then we went looking for which light frequencies and lenses worked best. It was a long development process. We also discovered that the laser has to move, or the birds would just stay where they were. Our lasers now provide a 70-90 percent reduction in bird numbers, which minimizes the damages for the farmer or grower.”

“Farmers can lose 10 to 50 percent of their harvests to birds”

- Steinar Henskes, Bird Control Group

Protecting farms and airports

In comparison with the “old” methods for chasing away birds, the lasers used by Bird Control Group are not only more effective, but also less labor-intensive. Henskes: “Nets also work well, but it’s a lot of work to hang them over orchards every year. Plus, the tree branches grow through the nets, which blocks the grower from reaching the fruit.” Birds eventually become accustomed to noisemakers and stationary scarecrows, and hiring a falconer and falcon is an extremely expensive way to chase away birds. But birds never become accustomed to lasers. They see the moving light as a physical danger, like a kind of predator. The laser system usually earns back its investment within a year, says Henskes. “A hand-held laser costs 250 euros, and a fully automatic system is around 10,000 euros.”

Bird Control Group not only has agricultural clients, but also respected multinational firms. BCG is responsible for keeping birds away from drilling platforms owned by Total and Shell, and from car dealers Pon and Van Mossel Automotive Group. Schiphol also utilizes the company’s services. “The problem of birds and airports is complex,” Henskes explains. “They can sit on and around the runways, but also on neighboring fields owned by others. It’s not always clear if you can put laser equipment there. But birds also present a danger at higher altitudes. So at Schiphol, we have to work together with bird watchers.”

Vineyards

The company from Delft, which has grown from a single employee in 2012 to eighty today, has since expanded into Latin America and the United States. Henskes: “We develop our laser equipment in the Netherlands, and in North- and South America we work for a lot of growers of soft fruit, like vineyards. Soft fruit is an expensive crop per hectare, so there’s more need for protection. We’re planning on expanding to Australia as well, where there are a lot of grape and almond farmers. Things have gone quickly for Bird Control Group. Seven years ago, I was still living in my student apartment, trying to combine my studies with my business...”

Realizing ambitions for growth

Innovation is crucial for a growing and changing society. Start-ups and scale-ups are a vital part of that transition, but they usually require a lot of capital, access to high-quality partners, and support for financial optimization. That has proven to be a challenge. Studies have shown that only 0.4% of Dutch start-ups grow to become scale-ups. Bird Control Group managed to grow from a tiny start-up to an international scale-up.

Rabobank and Bird Control Group share a long history together. Rabobank is closely involved in the local ecosystems in the Netherlands, as well as YES! Delft, an ecosystem-annex-network of young tech companies, and RoboValley.

Henskes: “Rabobank’s involvement from our start-up phase has meant that we’ve ‘grown up’ together. In all of our phases of growth, the bank’s start-up and scale-up team supported us with advice and knowledge. They think along with us and ask what we need. We have contact at least once per month.”
“The bank understands what challenges a fast-growing company faces, and it can help by offering suitable financial products, for example.”With the goal of helping Bird Control Group to grow, Rabo Corporate Investments has come on board as an investor and strategic partner. “Rabobank has given us access to its international network to help find new clients. With that and financial assistance, the bank is helping us to grow internationally,” Henskes continues. “Bird Control Group is making a contribution to global food security, so we are a good fit with Rabobank’s vision.”