Harvest wrap-up: 2015

Harvest is over for another year, and our teams are ready to move on to their winter tasks. This week, some of them reflected on this year’s harvest, and what some of the differences were this year.

“Based on crop conditions, we found ourselves needing to change our harvest strategy significantly,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann. “It was great to see the crew leads pull together and work through the new plan that was evolving every day; this was all done while learning new equipment and working on increasing efficiency, and we still completed harvest on time.”

GM Fred Torres was similarly pleased: “We had to make new plans, but once we did I feel they were well executed,” he says. “It was a job well done, as far as moving water was concerned.” He emphasized that the plans didn’t just include flooding, but actually moving water from place to place with the help of Crisafulli pumps, thanks to difficulties with the weather. This meant our picking crews also had some logistical challenges with equipment, due to the change in picking patterns. “We had to move more people and equipment around than we usually do; move a truck here, a tractor there, put extra men on the picking machines because they were picking a large bog out of the ‘usual’ order. It took planning, but in the end we did what we had to do, and we did it well!”

Team leader Matt Giberson learned a lot about water management this year. “You never stop learning,” he says, “but this year in particular had a lot to offer. All three teams mostly picked their usual assigned bogs, but we all stretched a little and went to some different sections this year. I learned a lot about different ways to flood. At the beginning of the season we had very little water; we got that big rain, which helped, but then it started drying up again. It kept us on our toes!” The bogside cleaner, which his crew ran, was also a test for them: “I was really worried the first week; it was a rough start. But the shop and the team both said, we’re gonna figure this out, and we stuck together and made a lot of great changes. There are still a couple of things to improve on, but we can fix it. I have some ideas, and so do the guys on the equipment team.” This was also Matt’s first year with the Gates Harrow, and he quickly figured out where it would work best and why.

This week, we also said goodbye to our seasonal crew until next year! Thank you, guys…we’ll see you next fall!


Pine Island Cranberry has only been using our bogside cleaner for one season but our team is already figuring out ways to make it even better!

Our Equipment team spent a considerable amount of time over the past month or so working on a trommel attachment in order to increase the efficiency of the bogside cleaner. (A trommel, also known as a “trommel screen,” is a screened cylinder used to separate materials by size.)

The team took it on a trial run last week and were pleased with the results! “It did exactly what it was supposed to do,” says welder Fred Henschel. What this new extension is actually supposed to do is take in all the trash produced by the berry pump: berries that are too small, leaves, twigs…anything not supposed to go with the fruit, along with all the water it’s pulling up from the bog. “The problem before was, we were pulling in so much water it wasn’t separating from the trash enough,” Fred says. “We couldn’t entirely disperse the water and the trash truck would end up pulling away more than half full of water as opposed to full of just the debris.”

The team’s modifications made it possible to send clean water back into the bog and the debris into the trucks. It was also more efficient from a time and fuel standpoint, since instead of using three to four trash trucks per trailer load of berries, the gathering crew was able to load one tractor trailer with one trash truck. “It saved time on switching, as well,” Fred says. When it was time to switch out the trash truck, the team would have to stop the pump, pull the truck all the way out to the far corner of the bog, then back another truck all the way back in. Skipping that step allows the harvest to move much faster.

And in the true spirit of doing whatever it takes…”The guys were so excited to try it out that it couldn’t fail,” Fred says.

*Photos by Fred Henschel

Finish line: 2015

Harvest comes to a finish at Pine Island Cranberry soon, and it’s been one heck of a ride!

We’re still using our traditional harvesting methods:

But we’ve also been working with new technology:

Last but not least, we’ve really enjoyed sharing how we love what we do!

As always, no matter what the final numbers are, we are growers…it’s what we do and who we are. And our team at Pine Island Cranberry will continue to do everything they do better every day!

Improvement and change

Pine Island Cranberry always works toward doing what we do better every day. We’ve been working very hard to bring this year’s crop in with some new machinery…but we still have a crew out there with the older equipment, doing whatever it takes to finish their work!

Supervisor Jeremy Fenstermaker’s Green Team is out at Mike Hensel right now, using the old reel harvesters to knock berries off the vines. “Usually, we use the Gates Harrow on level bogs, or bogs with only one or two big picking patterns,” Jeremy says. (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.) “These bogs are older; they have ditches and aren’t very level, so we have to pick them with the reels. You need a guy leading to show where they’ve already picked. With the Gates Harrow, the water has to be low enough that Rick [Zapata] can use the fruit for a guide. With these bogs being so out of level, we can’t hold the water low enough for Rick to see where he’s picked already.”

So, while Rick is over helping next door at the Sooys’ operation (“Those bogs are nice and level, and the Sooys are great neighbors”), Jeremy reflects on some of the differences between the traditional reel harvesters and the Gates Harrow machines. “Using the Gates Harrow frees up a lot of people to do other work that needs to get done. It’s moves a lot faster, too; the only problem is you have to pick ahead so you can get the timing right for gathering and keep the water flowing.” He also thinks the new machines pick a lot cleaner than the regular ones. “I think there’s less damage to fruit with the Gates Harrow; it combs the berries off vines, which makes harvest easier on vines, as well.”

Having the additional machine still makes things easier for a crew using the traditional reel harvesters. “It’s nice having two this year,” Jeremy says. “With two you can keep three crews running smoothly with no hold-ups getting the fruit to the packing house. It works out very well.”

Ocean Spray: From Bog to Bottle 2015

Pine Island Cranberry was pleased to host a visit yesterday from George Giorno at Ocean Spray, who brought along his associates Greg McCann, Vinny Bergamini, and Jim Falese (from Advantage Sales and Marketing) and Alexandra Von Nessen and Steve Salerno (from Wakefern Corporation). They work closely with George and Ocean Spray on marketing and distribution, and were happy to have the opportunity to see a cranberry harvest in action!

The morning started at our main office with a brief introduction to the business from CEO Bill Haines, who then led the group out to see our hard-working crews getting the harvest in! At our first stop, Bill was able to give them a closer view of the inside of a cranberry as well as the bud set on the vines for next year’s crop.

Subsequent stops included a chance to see our Gates Harrow harvester in action, as well as our traditional gathering crew and a stop at the packing house platform.

Everyone asked some really fantastic questions and also had a wonderful time, according to Greg McCann: “The tour was very enlightening! I have been to numerous plant tours over the course of my career, but never to the origin, where the process begins. To be able to see the cranberries harvested, and even pick one off the bush, was an amazing experience! I would recommend it to any customer who is on the Juice or Fruit Buying Desk!” For our part, we truly enjoy visiting with folks who show such enthusiasm and willingness to learn! As George himself said, “…we enjoyed sharing our passion about this wonderful little berry that’s afforded us a great brand of products to share and enjoy with the entire world!”

Thanks, George…and thank you, Greg, Vinny, Jim, Alex, and Steve, for taking the time out of your day to visit!

Harvest begins!

It’s official: harvest has started at Pine Island Cranberry!

This week, harvest began at our Sim Place bogs, with supervisor Matt Giberson overseeing a hard-working team on the Gates Harrow and new bogside cleaner. Last week, Matt and his team (along with a staff member from Paul’s Machine & Tool) tested the cleaner on some newer bogs that aren’t yet producing much viable fruit, but now the real test has begun!

While setting up the boom remains the same, the bogside cleaner does the job of several machines, eliminating the need for an elevator, extra tractors, and the cleaning equipment at the packing house; instead, bog debris is removed from the fruit as it is gathered, and the loaded truck proceeds immediately to the Ocean Spray receiving station in Chatsworth.

“It’s going well, really well,” COO Bryan vonHahmann says. “We’ve come a long way in the last two weeks. There’s been a big learning curve, as expected. We’ve set some goals; by the end of the season, we want to have a truck loaded every twenty minutes, and we’ve just loaded one in eighteen. We have a few more modifications to make, and we’ll do those over the season, but we’re really pleased with where we’re at!”

The new technology isn’t the only thing Bryan is happy about: “The team has done a fantastic job taking on new tech and working through issues; no one is getting discouraged, just forging forward. They’re all very engaged.” He notes that the team leader has already picked up on many of the intricacies and called a brief halt to proceedings at one point because something sounded “off” to her. “She thought something didn’t sound ‘right’, and stop to check immediately. She didn’t find anything, but had the wherewithal to stop it as opposed to letting the machine run and possibly finding a bigger problem later on. She’s doing a great job.”

Bogside cleaner

One of our top priorities at Pine Island Cranberry is efficiency; we’re always trying to find ways to become better growers! This includes being open to new methods as well as new equipment, and this week, our team tested the latter with our new bogside cleaner.

During the harvest, berries are placed on a truck via an elevator. The truck then goes to our packing house to unload and prep the berries for the receiving station by removing as much bog debris as possible. The bogside cleaner improves this process by removing the packing house step entirely and removing debris as the berries come out of the bog. “This is better on fuel and easier on the team,” explains supervisor Matt Giberson. “It should actually require fewer people in the water.”

Matt and his team tested the cleaner on some newer bogs that aren’t yet producing much viable fruit. (Young beds have yet to develop a dense canopy, and while they often yield fruit, a high percentage of that fruit contains rot.) This makes our young beds a good place to test run new equipment immediately pre-harvest. “It’s always a learning process,” Matt says. “We tried it for three days on different bogs to learn some of the variables and how we’ll need to adjust.” Among those changes were oil pressure on the pump (“That made a world of difference”, says Matt), bog shape, and amount of debris. Older bogs, especially at Sim Place, may have more roots pulled up with the rake on the Gates Harrow, which can cause the machine to jam. “We may need to make changes to the sprayer that we keep in the bog itself,” Matt says. “We’re thinking maybe adding a grate to that will help stop more branches, grass, weeds…all that fun stuff.”

“We’re going to need to make some more changes along the way,” Matt says, “but that’s what we always do! I think it’s going to make a huge difference.”