Harvest Improvements

In the time since we started this blog, our team has improved many of our processes in the interests of efficiency. The most visible changes, of course, have been to our harvest methods.

Since the 60s, when Bill Haines, Sr. moved entirely to water harvesting, we’ve been using the reel harvesters. Since 2014, however, as our team continues to renovate older beds to improve drainage and yield, we’ve been relying more and more on the Gates Harrow. The Gates Harrow is not as hard on the plants as the reel harvesters, 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.

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. 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 Gates Harrow is a simple machine set up to cover more ground. At the front is a rod which holds vines down to the ground; as the tractor moves forward, the berries pop off the stems and roll up over the tines on the rake. It’s 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. It also picks a lot cleaner; it knocks almost everything off the vines. With the standard reels you’ll still find some berries left here and there. There are also some fuel savings with just one tractor running. It’s also less labor intensive; we typically run a six man picking crew and their target is about 12.5 acres per day. On a more level set of bogs, they can do more than that, but with a Gates Harrow a two-man crew can get through 40 acres. It’s a lot more efficient.

As more and more of our older bogs get marked for renovation, we expect at some point to be full time with just the harrows. But until then, there will still be days like today where we’ll be kicking it old school!

Harvesting young beds

A couple of weeks ago we harvested Warehouse #1 and were impressed with the results. This week, our team returned to finish picking the rest of Warehouse, which we first replanted back in 2015.

The Warehouse renovation plan was highly influenced by Bill’s and Bryan’s trip to Wisconsin a few years back. At the time, Bill said:

We had made the trip because of their incredible increase in production per acre. They have some advantages with regard to location and climate, but each growing area has advantages and disadvantages. The biggest reason we saw was growers in Wisconsin have been very aggressive in the last fifteen years in renovating bogs and making sure they had the best varieties. They improved the way they built their bogs, and they’re still looking for ways to improve every single thing they do.”

And, as predicted, the Warehouse bogs have indeed been among the first to reap those benefits, when a couple of weeks ago the first one alone sent eleven trailer loads to Chatsworth for a yield of 493 barrels per acre.

The rest of them were looking just as good this week, although the numbers aren’t all in yet!

Our team will continue to move down the line from the top of the farm, where more young beds are now ready for their first or second harvest; so far we are optimistic.

A lot of things have changed since we harvested those bogs in 2014: in addition to the beds themselves, we’ve improved on almost every aspect of the process, from picking to gathering to hauling. Remember this?

And, of course, none of this would be possible without the great team we have, who are out there doing everything they do better every day!

Pine Island Team Profiles: Dan Land

Pine Island is now in the thick of harvest, running three teams seven days a week to bring in the crop! One of our newer team members, Dan Land, is experiencing his first cranberry harvest and is doing a fantastic job learning as he goes.

“We got a lead from Johnson’s Farm earlier this year,” explains COO Bryan vonHahmann. “They called Bill [Haines] and said they had someone who used to work for them and was really good, but they didn’t have anything for him at the moment and wondered if we might. So Mike [Haines] and I chatted with him a few times to see if it was the right fit, both for him and for us. Periodic check-ins have shown that he wants to learn everything as well as understand it. He’s a very hard worker and we think he’ll continue to grow.” Dan has also made an impression outside of Pine Island. “Dan actually ran the planting project at Red Road this past spring,” Bryan says, “and we got an email from Maryann at Integrity Propagation about how much she enjoyed working with him; none of us have ever received a review like that! It was good to hear.”

“We’re breaking him in slowly,” says operations manager Matt Giberson. “He’s helped with water a little bit, but now he’s on a gathering crew and getting a better idea of what harvest is all about. He’s asking a lot of questions; he’s a really smart guy, and I think he’s got great potential. His head is always on a swivel, taking it all in. He’s doing really well for his first harvest.” Not every team will finish at the exact same time, so Dan took an opportunity when his own crew was done to go check out how the other two teams ran things. “Each crew does things a little differently,” Matt says. “On Tuesday, once Dan’s crew was done, he went over to Blondie’s crew to see what he could pick up. That was really good to see.” Dan even takes ribbing really well: “He wears a lot of Jets gear. I mean, he says that’s because he worked for them, but it seems kind of fishy to me!” (We just think it means he really is very intelligent and understands that discretion is the better part of valor.)

“We’re going to keep Dan engaged and challenged,” Bryan says. “So far, it looks like it’s working.” Welcome aboard, Dan!

Hauling

The second full week of harvest is going well and our crews are hitting their groove!

One of the bogs our team picked this week is called Warehouse. Warehouse is one of our younger bogs, which was renovated in 2015 and planted with the then-brand new Haines variety. Our team has been very pleased with the results from this variety, which so far has yielded high quality fruit: very firm with excellent color.

Once the fruit is gathered, it’s run through the bogside cleaner, which removes debris (such as leaves, vines, et cetera) as the berries are coming out of the bog. It’s a very efficient process that means we can get the fruit to the Ocean Spray receiving station as quickly as possible, and we have a fleet of trucks to help that along!

The trucks are wired to a set of lights so the gathering team leader can communicate effectively from the cleaner’s platform. When one section of the trailer is full, the team leader hits a button and the yellow light in the truck cab indicates that it’s time to move forward! If the driver moves up a little too far, the team leader will use the red light indicator to tell the driver to back up.)

Once the truck is full (whether it’s cleaned with the bogside cleaner or at our own packing house), it’s time to head down the road!

Once the driver gets to the receiving station, he drives to the scales, where he turns in the paperwork and Ocean Spray takes some initial samples.

He is assigned a pool number, then drives around back and backs up to the assigned pool.

The crew at the station then start running the equipment needed to clear the berries from the trailer and take additional samples as needed. When the truck is empty, it’s back around to the scales to be weighed again, and off again home to pick up another load!

This week, driver Tug Haines looked at the amount of fruit at Warehouse as the gathering crew set up the boom and estimated that we might haul as many as nine truckloads to the receiving station. It turned out to be that much and then some: eleven trailer loads heading to Chatsworth from one 9.3 acre bog, for a yield of 493 barrels per acre. Not a bad start!

Harvest’s beginning – 2020

It’s once again everyone’s favorite time of year: Pine Island’s cranberry harvest is officially underway!

Our team isn’t going full speed ahead just yet. “We’re starting the same as every year, with a focus on taking the early varieties such as Crimson Queen as well as the young beds,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann. “We started off with three crews, but went down to two for now. It hasn’t settled into a groove yet; the color was later this year than expected, and as usual, we’re playing the balance game with color, rot, and water flow.”

As our team continues to renovate older beds to improve drainage and yield, we’ve been relying more and more on the Gates Harrow to knock the berries from the vines. The Gates Harrow is not as hard on the plants as the reel harvesters, and our renovation program is geared for increased efficiency by being user-friendly for equipment like this. And, of course, we’ve made some upgrades to the harrow over the summer that should make the process more efficient!

“Getting started has been stressful but getting better,” says operations manager Matt Giberson. “The quality looks great and the color looks great.”