Blog anniversary: 2018

This week is the six year anniversary of the Pine Island Cranberry website, and it’s certainly been an eventful year!

Our normal yearly workload proceeded much as it usually does, with our annual schedule of bog renovation, frost, planting, and sanding, as well as the yearly harvest.

We had our annual visit from Dr. Joan Davenport, and made some changes to our plant nutrition program, and dealt with the usual seasonal tasks for summer, winter, and spring.

Some team members celebrated some big work anniversaries, and everyone celebrated a couple of safety milestones by getting to go home a little early! We also welcomed two new employees this year on our Facilities and Equipment team and at the office, and are currently looking for someone to join our ICM team!

It’s been a huge year for our stewardship work with New Jersey Audubon and Pine Creek Forestry. The Northern Bobwhite Quail Initiative continues to go well, and even received some national and state recognition! We’re truly honored to be working with such great partners on such an important project.

Harvest continues to be the topic our readers are most interested in, and this year, they got to see a bit more than usual! In addition to our weekly blog posts, we received visits from both Nora Muchanic and Mike Jerrick, as well as several print publications. We’re always glad to tell people about doing what we love, and how our team does whatever it takes to make the prettiest sight in the pines happen, year after year!

Last but not least, we got to celebrate at a very special Annual Growers Meeting, which we’re planning on enjoying for quite some time.

We’re so glad you’ve continued following us from “Bog to Bottle” (as one of our favorite people at Ocean Spray likes to say) for the past six years, and we’re looking forward to keeping you updated for many years to come!

Harvest’s end – 2017

Pine Island Cranberry wrapped up the harvest early last week, and our seasonal team members are on their way home after another job well done!

Our team’s hard work wasn’t an unqualified success, however. “It was a disappointing season all in all,” says CEO Bill Haines. “The crop was less than our target in terms of barrels per acre. We had held back, so we didn’t expect to have as big a harvest, but we were still 10% below our target. And the fruit quality not as good as we wanted, particularly on the young beds. That was disappointing.”

It’s not all bad news, he says. “We had an efficient harvest. The team worked well together, our equipment worked well, and over the course of the whole season, we learned a lot.”

We’d also like to extend a special shout-out to crew leaders Gerardo Ortiz and Matt Stiles, who did a great job this (and every) year. They managed a tough job with proficiency and excellent problem-solving skills: water management, fluctuating weather, ever-changing personnel and equipment needs, and everything else a good manager needs to do to run an efficient cranberry harvest!

Bill remains optimistic for next year: “One thing about growing cranberries: it’s like baseball. There’s always next season. And we’re already training for the next season.”

BCMAC visit

Just this morning, Pine Island Cranberry had the pleasure of hosting a tour with the Burlington County Military Affairs Committee! BCMAC acts as a liaison between the Joint Base military commanders and the civilian community “to promote a mutual understanding of one another’s mission and to assist and support the military wherever possible”. Stan Fayer and MaryAnn Rivell brought us a fantastic group from the Joint Base, and we kept them quite busy!

Once everyone arrived, CEO Bill Haines gave everyone a brief overview of the farm and family histories, complete with a photo gallery put together by Bill’s wife Nadine.

After that, it was off to see the real star of the show: New Jersey’s red October!

The group learned about picking with the Gates Harrow and how it gets in and out of the bog, and then they were able to get a bird’s eye view of the gathering process from the top of the bog side cleaner.

Next, they were able to go into a bed that hasn’t been picked yet, learned a bit about different cranberry varieties, and got to try out an old-fashioned dry scoop.

The final stop was at one of our recently planted bog to hear about how our young beds are renovated.

We had high standards to live up to: Pine Island was pinch hitting for our next door neighbors Lee Brothers, who do a phenomenal job with this tour! It turned out to be a great day; the weather was wonderful, and everyone had a good time, especially Bill:

“The BMAC out was one of the most enjoyable tours we’ve ever done. It’s really nice to have a group of people who are genuinely interested in what we’re doing, and it was a pleasure to talk to them about our history, the current harvest, and where we plan to go in the future. They were interested, asked a lot of good questions, and it was great to have them.”

Thanks to Stan, MaryAnn, and everyone who came out to see the prettiest sight in New Jersey this morning!

Reel method

With fewer acres to pick due to the late-holds as well as our ongoing renovation projects, we’re typically only running two picking crews this year rather than the usual three. The majority will be picked with the Gates Harrow, though a limited number of older bogs will still be harvested using the reel method.

The Gates Harrow is not as hard on the plants as our usual method, and our renovation program is geared for increased efficiency by being user-friendly for equipment like this. But there are still older beds in the center of the farm that are easier to pick using the former method. (This goes for gathering as well; while the bog side cleaner remains in use, the crew instead uses the box trucks instead of tractor trailers, as the dams there simply are not wide enough.)

When it comes to picking with the reels, there’s a lot to think about; it’s not as easy as just putting the machines in the water. There’s a method to it in order to keep from damaging the fruit or the vines. The difficulty fluctuates slightly due to bog size, weeds, and terrain, as well as other variables such as water levels, crop size, and even berry variety, as newer varieties typically have a greater yield. Some berries do not float to the surface as easily and remain under the vine canopy, which is why they stagger machines in the water in order to both maximize yield and minimize damage to the vines.

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 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.

The basic process actually is fairly simple: water reels, or “beaters” are used to stir up the water in the bogs. The berries are dislodged, or “knocked”, from the vines and float to the surface of the water. The machines are slowly rolled into the water and the wheels are lined up against each other, but not in a straight line. Initially, a crew member will walk the bog ahead of the edge harvester, which is smaller and lighter than the other harvesting machines in order to maneuver more easily near the ditches.

While this method is slower than the Gates Harrow, our team is still able to get quite a lot accomplished!

New cleaning line – follow-up

Last month in the run-up to harvest we went over some equipment modifications at our berry platform! This week, COO Bryan vonHahmann gave us a brief update on its performance so far.

“We didn’t use it as much early on because we were learning about what it will improve and what it’ll make worse,” Bryan says. “We have a lot of young beds coming into production over the next few years, so finding out what works and what doesn’t is going to be crucial.” Young beds have less canopy cover and thus are more prone to rot issues, but the amount of usable fruit on even a three year bed can make a huge difference.

“What we found out during the early run is that if the fruit is soft, the cleaning line can actually damage it. So we have to be aware of that and calculate the optimal timing for running the fruit through,” Bryan says. “The upside is, we’re getting good results. So far we’ve achieved up to 50% improvement on the berries we put through. If the fruit’s at the right stage of firmness/quality, it does run more slowly than what we‘re used to, but we knew that it would be. We don’t anticipate running all our fruit through it, so it’s doing just fine.”

The new line will be running again shortly, Bryan says. “Next week we’ll be picking beds in the center of the farm that we can’t get tractor trailers to, so we have to send in the old trucks.”

“We think it has a place in our operation, and we’re looking to make modifications based on what we learn this year.”

Harvest begins – 2017

The 2017 harvest is officially underway at Pine Island Cranberry!

Right now, we are running two picking teams instead of three, and both of them are using the Gates Harrow.

Our gathering team is working with newly updated equipment that should increase efficiency and reduce wear and tear on the dams.

Overall, our team is doing what they do best: getting the harvest in safely, and doing everything they do better every day!

Harvest prep – 2017

Harvest is less than three weeks away, and our team is making sure we’re more than ready!

“It’s coming and it’s coming up fast,” says CEO Bill Haines. “We’re getting everything sharpened up on the farm right now; the team is working on both the chores that we need to get done and those that we like to get done. It’s always nice to have the farm tidy and ready beforehand.”

All of the equipment has to be ready, as well! We have no brand-new equipment for this harvest, but there’s still plenty to be done. “We’re putting in a new cleaning line for the bogs where quality is an issue,” Bill says. “That’s a big project.”

There are some other considerations this year, as well. “Because we late-held so many bogs to take advantage of the Ocean Spray program, we’re not picking as many acres this year. That’s taking a little of the pressure off,” Bill says. “The good news is, we had plenty of water this growing season, so we’re not worried going into the season about running the wells a lot. We can handle whatever comes, of course, but the more water we have here in the reservoirs the easier it is.” With fewer acres to pick due to the late-holds as well as our ongoing renovation projects, we’re also only running two picking crews this year. The majority will be picked with the Gates Harrow, though a limited number of older bogs will still be harvested using the reel method.

“So far the berry quality and size looks good,” Bill says. “It can go south late in season; it did last year, so we’re just watching for that. We’ve done everything we can at this point and hoping for the best. Talk to me again in November and I’ll let you know how we made out!”