Flood removal – 2021

Spring has arrived and it’s time to start removing the winter flood! We’ve said it so often you can probably recite it with us by now: good water management is absolutely critical to growing cranberries. Growers rely on a clean, abundant supply to maintain the bogs year round. The key question, as everyone here knows by heart, is “Where is the water coming from, and where do you want it to go?”

Once the harvest is over, the bogs are flooded in order to protect the cranberry vines from the winter weather. When the warmer weather sets in, the bogs are drained so that the dormant vines awaken for the growing season; while cranberries are most frequently harvested using the “wet pick” method, they do not actually grow under water and thus need to go through the same growing cycle as any other fruit crop. The process, which we call “dumping water” is deceptively simple: a team member takes a gate hook (pictured below) and removes the boards that have been placed across the gate in the bog. (The boards are removed in a specific pattern to work with gravity and the natural flow of the water.) Once the boards have been pulled and placed on top of the gate, the water moves to the next bog along the ditches. This water returns to the reservoirs and canals in order to be reused for the next part of the cycle. It takes about 24 hours to drain completely.

After the water comes off, a crew will install sprinklers (if they haven’t been installed already) and makes sure the irrigation systems are 100% by turning on the system and letting it run for a while. Then they’ll clean out the nozzles, see where we need to make repairs, and turn the system back on to make sure the repairs worked.

Running the system for a bit also helps the team make sure that any potential engine problems are taken care of by the Facilities/Equipment team. It’s important for this to be done as soon as possible for frost protection. Typically, a cranberry bog is built at a lower level than the land immediately surrounding it and the bog temperature can drop ten to fifteen degrees lower than the uplands. These conditions make monitoring bog temperature a top priority once the winter water comes off, which is why installing sprinklers quickly and efficiently is so important.

Once it’s all done, everything should be on track for the cold nights still to come!

Meet Our Researchers: Thierry Besançon

Welcome to the inaugural post of our new occasional feature: Meet Our Researchers! We’ve spent so much time talking about the excellent work being done at the Rutgers Philip E. Marucci Center for Blueberry & Cranberry Research that we thought it was time to learn a little more about the people behind the projects. This week: Dr. Thierry Besançon. For a close-up look at his work, check out the Weed Science Instagram account!

What drew you to your field/research focus?

I worked for 10 years in France on diseases and pest management research in stone fruit crops (peaches, plums, cherries…). So, I already had some type of connection with specialty crops before moving to the United States in 2010. In North Carolina, I was offered the opportunity to conduct research for getting a PhD, but I wanted to see and do something new… that’s when I decided to specialize in weed science. I thought it would be good to add weed science knowledge to what I already knew in pathology / entomology from my previous professional experience in Europe. When I joined Rutgers in 2016, I was delighted to be able to work again with specialty crops! But the most exciting thing was really working on cranberries… it’s a unique crop with very specific agronomic practices and very specific challenges, especially regarding weed control. Cranberry is a perennial crop, and most of the time, perennial crops have to deal with perennial weeds that are very challenging to control.

What do you consider your best accomplishment?

Over the last few years, I focused a large part of my research program to find solutions for preventing Carolina redroot (a perennial weed!) to outcompete cranberry vines in our New Jersey Cranberry bogs. Carolina redroot is a very troublesome weed… it competes with cranberry for light, nutrient and water and causes drastic yield and berry quality reduction. It is also very attractive as a food source for waterfowl and that is a problem because swans and geese can cause a lot of damage to cranberry vines when feeding on redroot! Yield losses caused by Carolina redroot average $800/acre. And Carolina redroot is only a problem in New Jersey cranberries as this weeds is virtually unknown further north or in Wisconsin!

Our weed science team spent a lot of time evaluating how Carolina redroot is affecting cranberry yield and quality and determining if some of the unique cranberry agronomic practices (flooding, irrigation, sanding…) may help suppressing Carolina redroot. We also evaluated different non-chemical and chemical options that can help controlling this noxious weeds. After 4 years of investigation, we know more about the biology and ecology of Carolina redroot, and we are now able to propose to the New Jersey cranberry growers a strategy to suppress this weed and restore the productivity of infested cranberry bogs. We still have many questions to answer… How does Carolina redroot propagate from bed to bed? Are we helping it to spread into non infested bogs when harvesting cranberries? Can we detect this weed early enough, so we don’t have to rely on using chemicals to control it?

What has been your biggest challenge?

Well, initial research on Carolina redroot was not easy because not many weed scientists have been investigating this species and we really started from scratch. Learning and understanding the cranberry cropping system was not easy because it is a very, very special crop that I could not compare to anything else I was familiar with. But I am lucky to have great people here in New Jersey in our grower community, with Ocean Spray, and Rutgers University who love cranberries and love transmitting their passion for this wonderful crop. I also have a great weed science team with my technician Baylee Carr, my graduate student Maggie Wasacz, and all the people who are working with us during the spring and summer months.

What are your long-term research goals?

With regards to cranberry, one of my long-term research goals is really to keep better understanding the ecology of some of our most troublesome weed species. We really need to know the details of their life and why they like our cranberry beds so much if we want to get a chance to be more efficient at controlling them in the future.

I am also interested at using new imagery and drone technology to improve the early detection of weed infestation in cranberry beds before weeds colonize entire beds after a few years. With early detection, we can focus our weed control strategies where we really need it. For some species, we could potentially avoid the use of herbicides and focus on non-chemical weed management strategies such as tarping, solarization or manual removal if we can detect the weeds early enough before they start getting a large-scale issue. I also think we’ll be looking at new nonchemical tools for controlling weeds… we have ideas regarding the use of electricity for killing the weeds and we may even have a portable prototype for testing this summer.

What do you enjoy most about working with the cranberry community?

All our New Jersey cranberry growers have been very supportive of my research program, and as a junior faculty, this is extremely important to know that my stakeholders are providing this support. I do not have a week without talking to one of our New Jersey growers or our Ocean Spray agronomists. We are doing applied research in my lab, and it is very important to stay connected with the reality and the challenges that growers are facing with weeds in their cranberry beds. That is very important to have this permanent link with our cranberry community because these discussions are feeding ideas for developing new research!

More personally, our New Jersey cranberry community has been very welcoming and kind with me. I remember one day in my 1st year when I forgot to fill up my gas tank and stopped in Chatsworth, knowing that I could not make it up to the research station. And gas pumps are not very common in the Pine Barrens. It happens that one of our grower give me a call when I was in Chatsworth. He immediately proposed to come to help me with a jerrycan! It is a nice feeling to know that you are working with great professionals but also people that will not hesitate to help you when needed.

*Photos courtesy of Thierry Besançon.

Waiting for spring

Our March tasks remain much the same as they did in February, right down to working around the inconsistent weather!

Fortunately, this year the unexpected is a beautiful stretch of sunny dry weather, instead of an early March snowstorm like we’ve seen in some recent years.

We are continuing to run at least two sanding teams, weather permitting, as well as working on survey lines and our ongoing current bog renovation project.

While there was some concern last month that our team would not be able to do any prescribed burning, we did end up with enough clear, dry days that we were able to get some done here and there.

When the weather isn’t coperating, the team continues to keep busy on several indoor tasks!

Prescribed burning – 2021

It’s the burning season again in the Pine Barrens! While that might sound frightening, it just means it’s time to start doing some needed forest maintenance via prescribed burning.

Per the New Jersey Forest Fire Service:

The primary purpose of prescribed burning in New Jersey is to reduce the hazardous accumulations of forest fuels. This aids in the prevention of wildfires, reduces the intensity of the fires, and also provides a foundation for safer, more effective fire suppression and protection operations.

Pine Island has been a long-time proponent of this method and works closely with the fire service and our forester when it comes to this crucial method of forest maintenance. “Pine Island has a very long history of using prescribed burns to protect life and property on their land as well as the surrounding area,” says Bob Williams of Pine Creek Forestry. “In addition, it is used to sustain or enhance the overall ecological health of their forest. Fire is a critical component of sustaining this forest and used often in the farm’s forest management program. These forests need fire; it is as essential as rain or sunshine to the life of the forest. Native Americans used fire to sustain this forest as well as most forests across North America for millennia, and many plants and animals need fire to provide critical habitat components in their lives.” He understands the concern, but reassures people that all is well: “Weather permitting, people will see many smoke columns rising from the pinelands area in the coming weeks with no cause for alarm.”

While it’s been a very wet winter this year, putting us a little behind on our schedule, we’ve been able to get some done recently. With constant communication, our motivated team, and the able assistance of neighboring growers and fire experts, Pine Island is more than ready to keep up the the constant endeavor of caring for the place where we live, work, and grow!

In Memoriam: Ray Samulis

The cranberry community lost a staunch advocate and longtime friend this week with the unexpected passing of Ray Samulis.

Ray retired in 2017 after 41 years of service as agricultural agent for Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Burlington County and was also an advocate for farm safety for much of his career, leading several seminars on farm safety. He received many awards over the course of career, including a citation for Distinguished Service to Agriculture from the NJ State Board of Agriculture.

But more importantly than that, he was a friend to all of us. “Ray Samulis was a great friend to the cranberry industry collectively and to many of our members personally,” says ACGA President Shawn Cutts. “As our county extension agent, he was always available to help in whatever way needed. Ray was a regular at all of our meetings, usually giving one of his famous safety talks – a subject about which he cared deeply. His support, advice, and friendship have been missed since his recent retirement. The ACGA extends its sympathies to his family and loved ones.”

“I couldn’t believe when I heard,” says Mike Haines. “I am so sad to hear about his passing when he was really just starting his retirement. We missed him already at the ACGA and county board meetings. He was so kind and friendly to all, and always looking out for us farmers.”

“Ray was a good friend to every cranberry farmer in Burlington County as well as every other farmer in Burlington County,” Bill Haines says. “His focus on pesticide coverage as well as ensuring the safety of farmers was his top priority and it was always greatly appreciated. He was always looking to help and I appreciate everything that he did for us.”

Ray’s work to promote farm safety was his proudest accomplishment. In a Burlington County Times article on his retirement, he noted that the industry was listening:

For his work, Samulis said he was honored by cranberry growers with a “watchdog” award.

“Then I realized that they did pay attention,” he said.

We certainly were, Ray. And the promise we made when you retired still holds true: we’ll try to keep our initials off your list!

Winter tasks 2021

In addition to sanding, our team is working on some of our other usual winter tasks. Running two or three sanding crews means that a lot of team members are busy, but there are still other things to do!

Harvest time can be tough on our dams, as well as wet weather, so our team will also do some maintenance work on them in colder weather. Some dams are really only used during harvest, and if they get any ruts in a heavy rain, it’s usually fine. But the ones everyone uses most can deteriorate quickly, pushing out both water and sand; proper maintenance now is much more efficient than trying to fix the problem later. In some instances, all we really need is to pass over it with the scraper.

Our bog renovation, of course, is always ongoing, and when it’s wet outside, some team members will be indoors assembling sprinklers for the new renovation as well as repairing old sprinklers: replacing worn out nozzles, springs, and sprinkler heads.

Well-maintained, consistently available equipment and facilities that are fully operational are instrumental to Pine Island’s daily efficiency and the success of our operation. The facilities/equipment team usually has several projects going at once, assisting the sanding operation, the bog renovation team, and working on building upkeep, as well as doing all the necessary equipment maintenance in order to be prepared for the growing season and beyond.

Quail initiative: publication

Long time readers of this blog will remember that Pine Island was chosen as a site for the Northern Bobwhite Conservation Initiative back in 2013. Over the course of four years (from 2014 to 2018), over 300 wild birds were captured on private land in Georgia, then transferred to our farm, where they were fitted with radio collars, released, and monitored, with the goal of establishing a self-sustaining population.

Our site was chosen for several reasons, among them a state-approved Forest Stewardship Plan outlining long-term management goals as well as the extent of existing quality habitat already onsite from years of active forestry work, prescribed burning and agricultural best management practices that made it stand out above other sites in the region.

While the translocation program was finished in 2018 (an additional year after the initial three year program was completed), the researchers have spent that time evaluating the data, and John Parke of NJ Audubon says that “the first of several research papers associated with the Northern Bobwhite Restoration Initiative will be published in the February 2021 Journal of Wildlife Management.” Lead author Dr. Philip M. Coppola and co-authors Dr. Chris Williams, Dr. Theron Terhune, John Parke, and John Cecil “discuss results of the 5-year study focused on using translocation of Northern Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus) as an important component of Bobwhite population recovery in the Mid-Atlantic.”

From the NJ Audubon website:

Specifically, the research project evaluated “The Landscape Connectivity Hypothesis” which included, exploring the Bobwhite’s site fidelity, survival, including winter survival, reproduction, and resource selection following long-distance translocation. In addition to the Pinelands research site, a second research area was also included in the study to allow for comparison of a variety of factors involving the landscape, habitat and life cycle factors of quail. The second research area was in Kent County Maryland. . . results support the landscape connectivity hypothesis such that reduced connectivity in our study decreased site fidelity and survival. Temporal variation in survival was potentially an artifact of translocation stress or maladaptive behavior during initial acclimation to the release sites, indicating that higher stocking rates may be needed to provide adequate founder abundance for translocation success. Northern bobwhites used early-successional cover at all sites, though selection varied based on scale of analysis and landscape context. These vital rate estimates and resource use patterns should be used to guide future translocations within the Mid-Atlantic, provide perspective for this population restoration technique range wide, and stimulate further investigation into limiting factors.

We look forward to hearing more about this in future months!

Pine Island Team Retirements: Wilfredo Pagan

Team member Wilfredo Pagan retired last week after almost forty-two years at Pine Island! Wilfredo and his family have been a huge part of the farm’s success; his wife Nancy has worked at the Ocean Spray receiving station in Chatsworth, his brother William was a longtime employee, and his in-laws include current team stalwarts Junior Colon, Caesar Colon, and Gerardo Ortiz, as well as retired manager Joe Colon.

Wilfredo did just about every task that can be done during his time here, and he perfomedvery well! Back in 2014, when asked about goals, he said:

“My personal goals are the same as they’ve always been,” he says. “Keep doing what I’m doing and keep getting better at it.” Specifically, he says, this means always being willing to learn new things. “I’ve done a lot while I’ve been here. I run a lot of the heavier equipment, I help with the bog renovations, I put in new flood gates. . . I always have a lot to learn from Junior. Now I’ve been learning all the ins and outs of the laser leveling. Always something new to pick up.”

“Wilfredo is a solid equipment operator,” says Bryan vonHahmann. “He was our primary water gate installer, and with over 100 gates a year, he will certainly be missed. Wilfredo also did many other functions on the farm through his long career, and it will be hard to find his replacement.”

Matt Giberson says, “Wilfredo always gave a helping hand; whether you had been here 25 years or five minutes, he was always willing to teach you how to get the job done. He was an superb machine operator and his years of experience will greatly be missed.”

Steve Manning is also going to miss Wilfredo, but would like to add, “I hope he decides to come back maybe two or three days a week? Think about it, Wilfredo!”

“Wilfredo has been a great team member for many years,” says Bill Haines. “He did anything we asked, driving any kind of equipment from a truck to an excavator. And he installed thousands of feet of main line and laterals on new irrigation systems as well as literally hundred of gates, especially over the past few years as we expanded our reno program. He did a lot of good things for Pine Island and he will be missed.” But most importantly of all: “He loves all of the Philadelphia sports teams and he hates Dallas almost as much as I do! I always loved to see him first thing on a Monday morning after an Eagles win.”

We’re all going to miss you, Wilfredo! GO BIRDS!

Pine Island Team Retirements: Carlos Baez

Carlos Baez officially retired this month, and we’re going to miss him!

Carlos started at Pine Island in the early 80s as a seasonal crew member and eventually came on board full time working his way to Equipment Supervisor. He left for a while in the early 2000s but came back in 2008.

His colleagues at the shop are going to miss him, uniformly calling him a “nice guy” (Larry) and “a good guy and a hard worker” (Coco). Maury, one of newest team members, adds: “I didn’t know him long, but he went out of his way to make me feel comfortable when I started here.”

“Carlos was an extremely dedicated worker, doing whatever it took to grow quality cranberries,” says Bryan. “He often went the extra mile to help out. He was easy to work with and got along with anyone. Carlos will be missed on the farm and we look forward to him visiting us in the future.”

The office staff will miss him as well! “Our Carlos, better known at the office as ‘Guest Services Director’,” says Debra. “We miss him so much already! He was always available to help with anything that was needed. It’s a pretty rare quality anymore and much appreciated. He was instrumental in assisting with the arrival of our seasonal employees. From picking them up from the airport, to bringing them shopping, to sitting with me while we went over all the necessary paperwork they needed to fill out. He would always act as the liaison for any questions they might have had and I’m sure they relied on Carlos as much as we did. He will truly be missed but we were certainly blessed to have him on the farm as long as we did. I wish him and his family a wonderful retirement filled with great health and lots of grandchildren play time!”

“We’re going to miss him!” Bill Haines says. “Carlos has been part of the team for a very long time. He’d do anything anybody asked; he was very loyal. Never missed a frost night, whether he was running sprinklers or just on call as a mechanic. We could depend on him any time we needed him.” Bill’s going to miss one thing in particular: “I’m going to miss his jokes that were so awful that they were funny!”

Enjoy retirement, Carlos!

ACGA Winter Meeting 2021

This week the American Cranberry Growers Association once again held its annual winter meeting. The ACGA winter meeting is always a good opportunity for growers to listen to research findings from experiments during the previous growing season and the researchers’ recommendations for the 2021 growing season.

Usually it’s also a great chance for the local cranberry community to catch up to each other after the busy harvest season, but this week’s meeting, like so many over the past few months, needed to be held virtually. However, this also meant that in addition to our own researchers we were able to chat with Michelle Hogan from the Cranberry Marketing Committee (CMC) and Bill Frantz from the Cranberry Institute (CI) as well as researchers from other growing areas like Shawn Steffan from the University of Wisconsin.

Bill Haines, Bryan vonHahmann, and Mike Haines were the only three team members in attendance from Pine Island this time, as we wanted to keep some of our focus on sanding before we freeze up. “The format was tough, but that couldn’t be helped,” says Bryan. “Watching the presentations from the office was good as opposed to sitting in a meeting room. It was great to get updates on the various projects that are being worked on. And it also gave us a lot to discuss here on how we may experiment with our IPM and nutrition programs.” The main thing he missed, he said, was the lack of opportunity to talk to fellow growers.

“I thought that the presentations were well done and interesting and had a lot of substance,” Bill says. But like Bryan, he can’t wait to get back to in-person meetings. “The conversation between audience and presenter flows better in person, and you can speak with other growers on breaks to get their perspective and ideas.”

Mike Haines had a slightly different take: “I do miss seeing everyone in person; I always enjoy when all the NJ growers get together. But I gotta say I actually do like the Zoom meetings for learning purposes. It’s easier to take notes, and actually I find it easier for Q & A. I might be in the minority on that, I don’t know!” Like Bill and Bryan, he found all the talks very interesting. “Nick’s stuck out to me, because the proper nutrition of the Rutgers hybrids has been something I’ve really been working and focusing on. So that was good; I’ve had a lot of good conversations with Nick on that topic. Shawn Steffan’s presentation was really great too. They’re raising their own nematodes to use as a sort of biological insecticide. So cool! We’ve used some commercial nematodes before, but honestly I have no clue if they even worked or not. In this case, Shawn and his lab crew are raising nematodes native to that environment, so they’ve evolved to thrive there, I guess meaning they’ll be more effective. Even if we don’t end up messing around with anything like that, it was still so interesting to learn about. And that’s actually another benefit of Zoom meetings – a lot of barriers between regions have been knocked down. So we got to hear from Shawn in Wisconsin. And I’ve been able to attend various other Massachusetts and Wisconsin meetings this past year, since they’ve all been online. That’s been a really neat opportunity.”

All in all, it was another productive day for our Pine Island team as well another excellent program put together by Dr. Cesar Rodriguez-Saona. Thank you, Cesar!