Harvest Lunch

Pine Island Cranberry held its annual harvest lunch this week to say thank you to all of our team members who work tirelessly all year round but have really stepped it up this fall for both the harvest and the fall planting. It was also a chance to say good-bye to our seasonal team members, who are heading back home until next year.

One seasonal team member who will be retiring this year is Arturo Vieyra. Arturo has been coming to us for fifteen years; he worked on the Green Team gathering crew and has stepped up to do a thousand other things over the years, wherever he was needed. He has been a living example of Pine Island’s core values, always doing whatever it takes to help us bring in a better harvest, year after year.

Our team has a lot to be proud of this year; we set several production records and had our best harvest yet at Sim Place. Our newly created clean-up team put us ahead of schedule on our winter maintenance. As CEO Bill Haines said to the assembled team: “We delivered 38,000 barrels in two days. You can be proud of that and of everything else you’ve done this year.”

Bill also told the team: “It was a good harvest. It wasn’t a great harvest; we always want a record. But I will say this: everyone worked very hard. We had a very low rot percentage, which is fantastic. Everything was done way ahead of schedule. And that is a credit to organization and how hard everyone in this room worked. It means that if we’re doing the same things we’re doing right now, if we’re all working to improve what we do when it needs to be done, we’ll continue to see better results next year and every year after that. We have a great team here at Pine Island. And I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart for everything you’ve done for this place.”

The finish line!

Our hard-working crews hit their final targets this week, and our clean-up crew is close behind!

Pine Island Cranberry set several personal records this year. The one we are most proud of: on Monday, our teams moved so fast that we sent almost 14,100 barrels–over 1.4 million pounds of cranberries–to the Ocean Spray receiving station in Chatsworth. Other highlights: we harvested 1,299 acres in 35 days, finishing two days early and averaging 224.53 barrels/acre across the entire farm with only 3% rot.

We picked some of our newly renovated bogs for the first time and got results that give us great hope for our future. It was decided to pick some of the young bogs after only two growing seasons because there was already a lot of fruit in there. As CEO Bill Haines explained: “It might not be entirely useable, but if we leave it, the fruit drops off and rots into the ground. We won’t know exactly what will come up, but chances are it won’t be as productive. It won’t have the same genetics.” He calls those “mutts”. “Mutts will take over a bog if you let them; they grow more vines than fruit. They bloom at different times, making it impossible to time fertilizer and fungicide. They go backwards instead of getting better.” With an average of almost 189 barrels/acre at Panama #5 and 218 barrels/acre at Panama #6, it’s looking like growth and improvement can only continue over the next few years!

Overall, we set a new production record at Sim Place! Last year, our team brought in 32,220 barrels from Sim Place. This year, with several bogs setting new individual records, they harvested 41,966 barrels: a 30% increase in production! The low rot percentage made a huge difference here.

All of our teams did a phenomenal job. Despite the heavy summer rainfall, it was a dry autumn, and our supervisors had many challenges with water management. But they acquitted themselves admirably, and all of our teams surpassed their daily targets.

Our new fourth team, Jorge Morales’ clean-up/swan string crew, is still hard at work, but they expect to be done in good time, making it easier for our planting team to move on immediately to the Boricua renovation and helping Pine Island as a whole become more efficient. Their best record so far: covering 50 acres with swan string in one day!

In the end, Pine Island’s success is dependent on all members of our team, who are always willing to do whatever it takes to help us be better at what we do: growing more acres and more fruit per acre, every successive year!

Orange Harvest Team

Harvest is drawing to a close, and our Orange Harvest Team is helping us get everything in as quickly as possible! Toward the end of this week, they were working roadside, which made a lovely photo op for anyone traveling along Route 563.

Gathering crew leader Jose Cruz-Soto, better known as Blondie, is a long-time team member who has always shown the willingness to do whatever it takes to get tasks finished and is pleased with the work his crew has been doing. “They’re fast,” he says. “I have two new guys and they’re doing a really good job.” GM Fred Torres agrees: “Blondie’s crew is quick, because he knows how to delegate. He keeps an eye on everything. He’ll pitch in any time he has to, nobody’s too good for that. But he tells his guys what to do and then he makes sure it gets done. You can’t make sure everyone’s doing what they need to do if you’re only doing one task yourself.” It also helps Blondie keep track of the crop; when asked how many boxes have gone from a bog to the packing house, he can answer without even needing to think about it.

The ability to delegate is also one of the top abilities of Orange Team supervisor Gerardo Ortiz. The team supervisor’s job is a busy one; they are not only the top of the chain of command for both the picking and gathering crews, but they also have to constantly monitor the water for the bogs being picked, the bogs being gathered, the bogs that are being drained, and the bogs that are next in line. Most days, Gerardo won’t necessarily need to get into the water with his crew, but this week, it was all hands on deck as he jumped into the water and got behind a machine.

We mentioned last week that the gathering team has a tough job; corralling the berries can be more difficult in some places than others, depending on terrain. But uneven ground as well as ditch placement can also be a problem for the picking crews. Each bog is picked in a specific pattern according to topography, and the picking crew has to carefully move their harvesters around stakes which have been arranged by their team supervisor for maximum operational efficiency. (Following this pattern allows for minimal damage to the vines.) The crew leader also needs to stay ahead of his crew and check for ditches, for everyone’s safety. This is a little easier on newer bogs; they’re more uniform. But after a while our picking crew leaders get to know their sections and know which ones need a little more help. That’s where Gerardo came in.

“These are older bogs,” Gerardo explains, “and some of them are really oddly shaped or have unusual ditch patterns. Caesar [Colon, the Orange Team picking crew leader] is a pro, but with these bogs sometimes an extra hand helps.”

It is this willingness of every single team member to pitch in wherever it’s necessary that makes Pine Island Cranberry nothing but the best!

Green Harvest Team

Harvest is still going full steam ahead, with three crews working seven days a week to bring everything in and our fourth crew cleaning up behind them.

Our Green harvest team was out at the north end of the home farm this week, finishing up at Mule Island. Green Team supervisor Jeremy Fenstermaker is working with picking crew leader Rick Zapata again this year, but the gathering crew has a new leader in Waldemar Blanco. Waldy is a fourteen year team member who has done many things during his tenure here. He is an experienced member of our frost team, worked round the clock during the terrible Labor Day storm last year, and in general is a team player, flexible and ready to go whenever a job needs to be done for the crop.

The gathering team has a tough job. Once the boom is placed in the bog, each end is attached to a tractor, which slowly moves along the dam, corralling the berries. It can be more difficult in some places than others, depending on terrain. Sometimes the ground is uneven, and the boom can push back and some fruit escapes. Some members of the gathering crew follow alongside, “sweeping” the berries and making sure they stay within bounds. It looks really simple but it’s tough to get the hang of it; a lot of guys want to move quickly but it actually gets done faster if you slow down. You only move as fast as the tractor; your body should be slow but your arms should move fast. Once that is done, both ends of the boom are connected to the boom reel, which is wound tighter as the berries are brought up the elevator onto the truck. While part of the crew is pulling the boom tighter, the other part of the crew is setting up the elevator in order to remove the berries from the water and load the trucks bound for the packing house.

Communication is key to all of this, which is why it’s important to have good leaders. Waldy was an excellent choice for this position, having served as the second-in-command when Jorge Morales ran the Green gathering crew last year. “It’s a little different this year,” Waldy says. “I’ve worked on crews with different leaders, but it’s always been with guys who’ve come back year after year. This year, we have some new people. It’s a lot of work to teach them the routine at first, but now everyone knows what they have to do, and they do it.” The weather can make things difficult, he says. “Every year when we get to one particular area, it rains for a week! It’s always something. But we do what we have to do.”

Harvest team supervisor Jeremy Fenstermaker is pleased with Waldy’s work. “He’s been on a gathering crew pretty much since he started here,” Jeremy says. “He has a good sense of what needs to be done, and he does it. He was a natural choice to step up, and he’s doing a good job. The guys respect him, too. That counts for a lot. If your team knows what they need to do, it goes like clockwork.”

Waldy is a great example of someone who does whatever it takes to help Pine Island Cranberry achieve our mission. He works hard, does what needs to be done when it’s time to do it, and has stepped up to fulfill a leadership role and enable his team to hit their targets every day. Team members like Waldy are the kind of people who are helping Pine Island Cranberry do everything we do better every day.

Blue Harvest Team

Harvest is going at full speed and all of our teams are doing whatever it takes to bring in this year’s crop. Matt Giberson, our new Blue Team supervisor, was out at Bull Coo on the home farm with his crew this week. Matt has been with us for a year and a half now, learning all the challenges and triumphs of growing cranberries and is applying knowledge of the water from winter flooding to the management of the harvest water flow.

“My main job is to handle the water,” Matt says. “I was really nervous about it at first, especially with the reservoirs being so low. But I’m learning how it all works; I spend a lot of time talking to Bill and Fred, because they know more about the water than anyone else here. And I touch base every morning about our targets: what to pick, what to gather.” Matt is also getting used to the early mornings! “It’s a long drive out to Sim Place, and when you go to bed, you’re always worried about the water: did you close that gate? Is enough coming through?” With the reservoirs being so low, Matt also has to keep an eye on the Crisafulli pumps. “There was a clog at the gate at Red Road this morning; I could tell the stream wasn’t what it was supposed to be. Bill always says, ‘Be creative, have a Plan B’, so we brought some water down from the top. It finally cleaned itself out, and now we have plenty to finish this section.”

It helps to have a couple of experienced crew leaders. Joel DeJesus, who runs the picking crew, and Kelvin Colon, who runs the gathering crew, know what they need to do to keep the balance. “Communication is key, always,” says Matt. “If that goes well, everyone’s job is made a lot easier.” And everyone pitches in. Matt tries to keep Joel’s crew knocking berries at all times, and if Kelvin’s gathering crew catches up, they will help with other tasks, such as pulling sprinklers ahead of the picking crew, while waiting. As with everything else in agriculture, a lot depends on the weather. The wind was favoring the gathering crew, which helps speed up the process considerably. And they have specialized knowledge which also helps with efficiency: Joel keeps a set of tools on him at all times, so if the chain on a harvester breaks, he can usually fix it himself and save the equipment team a trip.

With water management so central to the operation, Matt believes that knowledge is power. “The more people know about the process, the better it is. They ask questions, you give them answers. Then they can see themselves if something’s not right. Vincent was out at Sim Place the other day and noticed a couple of boards had come out, and we were able to get that under control right away.” In turn, he asks plenty of questions and learns extensively from the team members that have been here for many years. Experienced team members such as Wilfredo Pagan, Ivan Burgos, and Jorge Morales, among many others, explained picking patterns to him. Each bog is picked in a specific pattern according to terrain, and the picking crew has to carefully move their harvesters around stakes which have been arranged by the team leader for maximum operational efficiency. Following this pattern allows for minimal damage to the vines. “That one’s still tough,” he says. “But it comes down to knowing your bogs, to keeping your feet in them and picking up the details. The more I walk them, the more I learn.”

Pine Island Cranberry is very happy to have Matt as the new Blue Team supervisor this harvest; he is a great example of the type of leadership we are trying to attract. He is passionate about farming, wants to know everything about how to grow cranberries, and is willing to do whatever it takes to help us achieve our mission. Most of our training on the farm is informal and on-the-job experience. This season, Matt has been able to lead his team and learn from the veterans at the same time, helping us do everything we do better every day.

Pine Island Team Profiles: Jorge Morales

Harvest is now in full swing, and everywhere you look there are gorgeous red berries against the backdrop of green trees and blue skies. But that is not the only thing our team is working on this fall. This week, we reserved one of our team profiles for supervisor Jorge Morales, who is heading up the first ground crew in the history of Pine Island Cranberry.

The ground crew is a new addition to this year’s harvest schedule. Led by Jorge Morales and assisted by longtime seasonal team member Alberto Torres, the ground crew follows the gathering teams after they are finished with each bog in order to start clean-up. In previous years, this job was left until after all the bogs were gathered and the harvest was completely in. The crew has several tasks: ditching (both by hand and mechanical) and installing swan line as well as general clean-up.

Jorge is a well-regarded and experienced team member who will have been here for thirty-seven years in November. “I’ve done a little bit of everything,” he says. His knowledge and experience made him the ideal person to run this new project. Swan lines are particularly important because of the damage they can do to a crop. PIICM manager Cristina Tassone says, “Just three acres of swan damage can give us a loss of 200 barrels per acre, or even more, depending on the variety. That takes three years to come back.” The strings are effective because they help keep the swans out of the bog by limiting the space available. “Swans are like a commercial airliner,” CEO Bill Haines says. “Having the strings up disrupts their attempt to both land and take off again.”

Jorge has a lot of enthusiasm and has the process down cold. “First I have to look at the map and see what my targets are,” he says. “I talked with Fred and decided to finish out at Sim Place this week before heading back to the home farm. It’s easier on the guys that way and we can get things done a lot faster. And you have to get it done fast, because those swans, they do a lot of damage.” First, he says, his crew sets up the rebar that holds the string; the first rod gets placed at thirty feet from the end of the bog and after that it goes to every sixty feet. “You have to make sure it comes out even,” he says, demonstrating how he walks out a bog to measure for the long lines that are installed after the cross lines. “Once all the rods are in, we tie the string on one end and then walk it across.”

Once the lines are tied, the next step is to install the poles in a checkered pattern within the bog. “The pipe is lighter and it’s easier for the guys to carry, but I think the cedar holds up better,” Jorge says. “And it looks nicer.”

Jorge has an excellent team made almost entirely of new team members, with the exception of experienced seasonal team member Geraldo Cartagena. But, he says, they’re doing an amazing job. “These guys are really working hard,” he says. “We do get a little more done on the weekends, because we have some part-time help, but these guys really move.”

In addition to the swan line, his crew will also clean out the ditches either by hand or using a method called “Shinn ditching”, where a machine is hooked to a tractor to clear out bog debris. Usually this is done in November, but doing it now will mean being able to finish well ahead of both sanding and the winter flood.

A very hands-on leader, Jorge always jumps right in and does whatever it takes to make sure he and his team do what needs to get done. Bill says: “Swan line is a really important task and is a big key to production. It’s not the glamorous job everyone wants photos of, but it’s extremely necessary in helping us actually grow fruit and set our targets for the next year’s harvest. Jorge and his team are really doing a great job.”

From Bill’s Desk: “Whatever It Takes”

Our newest feature: the first in an occasional series of entries by CEO Bill Haines.

At Pine Island Cranberry we believe in doing what ever it takes to achieve the goals we have set for ourselves. In fact, “Whatever It Takes” is one of the six core values that guide everything we do. This week three of our team demonstrated the kind of dedication it takes to put that core value into action.

The first day of harvest, our Sim Place well went out of commission when the harmonic balancer (also known as a dampener pulley) broke. It has been a dry August and September; our reservoirs are not as full as we would like. The well was crucial to flooding our Panama bogs for their first harvest. Louis Cantafio, manager of Equipment and Facilities, immediately went into action. He dispatched Ernie Waszkiewicz to remove the radiator from the engine to gain access to the balancer. In the meantime, he used every resource available to find the part. After locating one in northern New Jersey that afternoon, he made a four hour round trip to retrieve it. While waiting for Louis to return, Ernie rigged lights to make it possible to repair the engine and put everything back together after dark.

While this was going on, supervisor Matt Giberson, leader of the Blue harvest team, was successfully doing everything possible to flood the Panama bogs for picking. The team hit its target.

When Louis arrived with the balancer, he, Ernie and Matt went right to work. At 9:30 PM, I received a laconic text from Louis stating simply, “Well running”.

I am very proud of the effort, professionalism and dedication they displayed the first day of our 2013 harvest. They are perfect examples of the entire Pine Island team’s determination to do “whatever it takes” to be the best in the world at what we do. I am lucky to have such a team.

Game time!

It’s once again the most exciting time of year at Pine Island Cranberry: we began to harvest this week!

In addition to the work our equipment team has put in, our other teams have been unstinting in their preparation, as well. Once crew selections were made, the team supervisors started training the newer team members on the equipment as well as pointing out the more seasoned team members so the rookies know who to see for guidance if necessary. They also began staking the bogs to show the pattern in which the bog needs to be harvested to protect the vines from damage. (To go “against the grain” could severely damage the vines.) Finally, the supervisors began flooding the bogs, monitoring water levels until each was ready for the picking crews.

As always, water management is the most crucial task our team members perform. Reservoirs need to be at their highest level to begin the flooding process. A meticulous flood plan needs to be in place in order to set our targets. This includes determining how many bogs need to be flooded each day and at what pace; some will be slow, some more quickly. The water level needs to be monitored based on how long it will take to harvest the bog, raising it for gathering. Once the bog is harvested and gathered, the team supervisor needs to determine how much will be retained and how much will be transferred to the next bog, holding the water in a bog whenever they feel it necessary.

With the Green Team and the Orange Team working on established beds at Sim Place and the home farm, CEO Bill Haines took a ride out to the two and three year beds at Panama, which we are picking for the first time. When you plant a new bed, it’s usually a three-year cycle. “First year, roots; second year, shoots; third year, fruits”, as the saying goes, though if there is enough fruit we try to pick early. When asked why, Bill explains: “With cranberries, we always plant from vines because then they come up true. If you plant Crimson Queen or Stevens, you get Crimson Queen or Stevens. But cranberries will also come up from the seed.” In a young bog, our team might decide to pick if there’s a lot of fruit already in there. “It might not be entirely useable, but if we leave it, the fruit drops off and rots into the ground. We won’t know exactly what will come up, but chances are it won’t be as productive. It won’t have the same genetics.” Bill calls those “mutts”. “Mutts will take over a bog if you let them; they grow more vines than fruits. They bloom at different times, making it impossible to time fertilizer and fungicide. They go backwards instead of getting better.”

The official numbers aren’t in yet, but yesterday the gathering crew had hauled 68 boxes from Panama #6.

Bill says, “I can’t say as a farmer it’s going to be a great crop. But I would say that I think it could be a great crop this year.”

Preparing for the 2013 harvest

The 2013 harvest is less than a month away, and our team has been working hard to get ready. While our goal is always to have all facilities and equipment ready when needed, it becomes even more essential as harvest time gets closer. Facilities and Equipment Manager Louis Cantafio and his team have been going nonstop all summer to prepare the harvest equipment.

“Right now we’re going over all of the trucks,” Louis says. “A lot of minor repairs, a few major repairs. Most of it, though is preventative. We’re doing a lot of welding on the tailgates and the dump bodies. They come off for harvest, but when they go back on after the season it’s better to have them in good shape. During the season we’re always running hard, and those trucks are in use all year.”

The team also finished work on the harvesters earlier this summer. “Those all got oil changes, new plugs, and anything else they needed for a standard tune-up. We already did a lot of work last year in terms of replacing parts, though we’re ordering parts in because things are going to break and we need to have them back up and running right away.”

The equipment team helps with all the various harvest machinery, making modifications such as additional hooks for storage or an expanded hopper on the elevators. The boom is sent out for repair, and once it is all back, Kelvin Colon will be installing them on the boom reels.

In addition, all the equipment that we rent is on its way. Mike Guest, our Facilities Supervisor, is also in charge of the packing house. His main task this week has been ordering the trailers we use for hauling to the Ocean Spray receiving station. “I modify those myself,” Mike says. “So I need to make sure that what we get works with my modifications. If I make sure what they have for us is compatible with what we need, it saves everyone time and effort.” Once the trailers are in, he’ll get them ready.

The biggest part of Mike’s job, and the one he takes the most pride in, is prepping the processing equipment. “The main thing is getting the blowers ready,” he says. “The belts come off after harvest in order to prevent wear. It makes them easier to clean, for one thing, and that way the sun doesn’t damage them. The black ones can take it, the white ones can’t, so it’s just easier to take them off.” As far as the permanent machinery, is concerned, he says, he checks every single screw. “That’s not an exaggeration: every single screw. All the nuts and bolts: no exceptions. If you want a comparison, this place is a big funnel, and the packing house is the hole in the bottom. If it gets plugged, everything else shuts down. If something holds up a crew, we still have two more running until the first gets back up again. But if something happens at the packing house, the whole thing gets backed up. I always say it, but it’s easier to maintain things than it is to fix them.” Along those lines, he also makes sure he has parts so if something does break, he has what he needs to get back online.

Mike also welcomes any ideas from his crew to improve the process. “They’re the ones who are on it every day; if they come to me and ask if we can try something like adding an extra walkway, I’ll always see if it’s doable.” He is also very pleased with the assistance of Emmanuel Colon. “If I have to go anywhere, I know the place is in good hands.”

Last but not least, our PIICM program is also getting ready for harvest, calculating our crop estimate! Every year around the last week of August or first week of September, our team takes a random sampling of each variety that we have on the bogs. In each bed, they pick twenty square feet. The samples are brought to the Rutgers Marucci experiment station, where the staff generously allow our team space to sort the berries into categories: healthy, scald, rot, and other. Once it’s weighed and recorded, our team uses that info in conjunction with how many acres we have of each variety to calculate our estimated harvest for the year!