Preventative measures: swans

A niche crop like cranberries often has niche challenges! One of the toughest of those might be surprising to some people: the tundra swan. Tundra swans migrate to the area every year from Alaska and northwestern Canada and are particularly fond of red root, a weed that competes with cranberry vines for nutrients. When they fly in to feed, they not only tear out the red root, they also tear out vines and leave enormous holes that damage the beds themselves.

Since the swans are a protected species, growers have had to come up with a harmless solution to keep them safely away from the bogs. At Pine Island our PIICM team has been installing swan string for several years. The strings 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.” Not all of the bogs are strung; our team maps them out where we have found red root and where the swans have been spotted. 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.

When setting up swan string, the team places rebar in the ground along the longer sides of a bog, about every 75 feet. On the ends of the bog, the team walks it out and determines how many lines they’ll need to run lengthwise though the center. Once the rods are laid out on the dam, a team of three to five people gets into the bog and walks the string across. Once the entire bog is strung, the team goes back in and puts up poles, which are used to keep the strings out of the water so that they don’t freeze. They’re placed in a checkered pattern, not necessarily on every line. The poles can either be cedar posts or recycled irrigation pipe. In addition to the recycling/environmental aspect, reusing the irrigation line is lighter and easier to handle.

This year, our team installed almost one million feet of swan string, which come out to about one hundred and eighty-seven miles. That’s a lot of walking!

Our team has also adopted a backup method in the past few years: an Agrilaser. From their website:

Deterring pest birds from open and semi-open spaces has long posed a costly and nagging challenge to property owners and managers. While noisemakers like propane cannons can scatter bird pests, they can also be disruptive and must be repeated often to keep birds from coming back. Lethal means of bird control—poisons, pellet guns and inhumane traps—are illegal in many areas, as many birds are protected by law. Bird B Gone’s Agrilaser® provides an effective, humane solution. It uses advanced, patented optical laser-beam technology to harmlessly repel pest birds over great distances—up to 2,000 meters. The handheld device is silent and completely portable. Pest birds react to the green beam as they would an approaching car, so they flee the area. Yet, unlike some deterrent devices, birds will not get used to the laser beam’s implied threat.

With some trial and error around timing and placement, our team found that it does have some effect. This year, the plan is to use the laser during the brief period that string has temporarily been removed from the beds we’re sanding. “You’d think they’d stay away with all the equipment around, but they don’t,” says Matt Giberson. “But since it’s been effective the past couple of years, it’s good to have a backup to keep both the bogs and the birds safe.”

Winter flood 2019

The winter flood has begun!

The cranberry growing season lasts from April to November; the fruiting buds mature during the winter dormancy period. During the dormant season, severe winter weather could harm or even kill cranberry vines, which is why growers must take preventative measures to protect their crop. Under normal conditions, the temperature steadily drops post-harvest; it is important to wait until the vines go dormant before starting to put the water on. When vines go dormant, they turn burgundy in color:

Our winter flood program starts with making sure the water in the reservoirs is at the level we need. If there has no been significant rain to get the reservoirs to flooding level, we start our wells. We will continue to use the wells to maintain the reservoirs and the stream needed to get the bogs flooded.

The next step is placing boards in the gates to start bringing the water level up in the bogs, much like we do to prep for the flooding at harvest in the fall. “There’s a lot to know. How the water works, where it’s coming from, where it has to go, how to move it the most efficient way,” says Matt Giberson. “It’s not something you learn overnight.” In practice, this means constant awareness and monitoring of where the water is coming from, where it is going, and how much stream is coming down.

Flooding starts by letting in streams from the reservoirs to canals and bogs. Strategic board placement (more boards in the southernmost bogs to catch the water) will get the ditches high and running down to start flooding from the bottom up.

As the water level in the bogs begins to rise, our team begins adjusting the water level in the bogs by adding boards where they are needed. Once the vines are covered and the stream has settled, we adjust the level of the reservoirs to maintain the stream and keep the bogs flooded for the winter. Wells are shut down once bogs are flooded, and only turned on again if it is dry and reservoir levels are dropping.

It is also necessary to make sure we are not losing water anywhere. “Sometimes you can hear the water coming through a gate that’s supposed to hold it,” Matt says. “It’s the same as running diesel fuel; it’s a big waste, and we need to try to stop it or slow it down.” He does this by adding sand or even grass in front of the leaking boards, as sometimes the sand can wash away too quickly.

Once we are flooded, our team needs to constantly monitor the bogs to make sure there are no leaks, that the water level remains steady, and that the stream remains constant. The weather is also a factor: no rain for a long period of time will shrink the reservoirs and wells may need to be started to maintain the water level in the bogs. Matt says, “If it gets cold enough for the water to freeze, I also need to check to see if I have to break any ice to keep the stream flowing, especially on the southeast gates.”

Team communication is crucial to the process, adds Jeremy Fenstermaker, because “an action in one section will have a huge effect somewhere else. It’s important to learn the whole process but it’s even more important to know how it all ties together.”

A Team Thanksgiving

Our annual team thank you post! What are we grateful for this year?

Bryan vonHahmann:

Spending time with family and friends through the holidays, being part of a great team and completing another year, and new challenges that lie ahead.

Louis Cantafio:

In reviewing all of these things that I have been thankful for, I realized that it’s not my individual successes, but rather the successes of our shop team – a group of individuals that is responsible for building, fixing and maintaining over 280 pieces of moving equipment as well as over 100 diesel-powered irrigation pumps. This group of individuals ensures on a daily basis that the rest of our teams have the operational equipment they need for PICC to be one of the largest cranberry producers in the world. Yes, that’s it! – I am most thankful for the opportunity to work with such a talented, motivated and successful team! (and I like that they make me look good!) Thank you!

Matt Giberson:

I’m thankful for a safe harvest and thankful to be a farmer.

Mike Scullion:

I’m thankful for my new puppy, Kali, and my new camper, and I’m looking forward to many camping trips!

Joann Martin:

I am thankful that our softball sister Sammy Thompson came home from a 307 day hospital stay while battling leukemia and will be spending Thanksgiving in her own home with her family. #sammystrong

Jeremy Fenstermaker:

I am thankful that my family at home has grown up around here and understands what it takes to work here. I am grateful for their love and support.

Debra Signorelli:

I’m thankful for so many things. . .my family, friends, and co-workers make this walk a joyous one! I wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving.


Stef Haines

As always, I’m grateful that the team is willing to step up and write the blog this week, as well as their perpetual willingness to let me interrupt their work with cameras and visitors!

Happy Thanksgiving, from all of us to all of you!

Dan is retiring!

Dan Schiffhauer of Ocean Spray is retiring, and the New Jersey cranberry community is certainly going to miss him!

Dan was here as the contact for the growers for Ocean Spray and did whatever was needed to assist us with the crop. When he first came on board he was the point man for getting every Ocean Spray grower to use Integrated Pest Management and helped develop that program for all of us. He was available to deal with any horticultural issue, whether it was fertilizer, disease, insects, water management . . . if it had to do with cranberries, he was there as a consultant. His hard work and dedication made a tremendous difference in how we manage our crops.

Thierry Besançon, Rutgers University:

Dan is the guy here at the station who took a lot of his time to teach me about cranberry, not only the plant, but also the pests, the weeds, and all the complexity of cranberry management. He’s a very enthusiastic pedagogue, a mine of knowledge, and a great supporter of our Weed Science Research program! I’m glad that he’ll still be around because I still have plenty of questions on cranberry for him!

Steve Lee IV, Lee Brothers:

Dan is and will always be part of our family and we are eternally grateful for his tireless efforts in contributing to our success. We are thankful and appreciative of Laura, Sam and Maura for their personal family sacrifices made in support of Dan’s work over 29-plus years.

Peter Oudemans, Rutgers University:

Dan Schiffhauer is one of the most energetically creative people working in cranberries today . . . I can’t believe he thinks it is OK to retire!

Jeremy Fenstermaker, Pine Island Cranberry:

I am glad to have had the opportunity to get to know him professionally and personally. He was always available when needed and spoke from experience when called upon. He always had the growers best interest in mind. Now I hope he enjoys his retirement and shares where he is catching the big fish!

Shawn Cutts, ACGA President:

It is hard to overstate how much we will all miss Dan as he retires. Through his hard work, expertise, and willingness to attack any problem, he has been a tremendous resource in helping us growers to be our best. His friendship has been a blessing to everyone in the NJ cranberry community. We wish him all the best in retirement!

Bill Haines, Pine Island Cranberry:

Dan’s smart, he’s funny, and he always worked hard for the growers. The two biggest compliments I can pay Dan are that he was always there when you needed him, and in his 30-plus years here, he made a difference.

#WinThanksgiving – thanks, Ocean Spray!

This entry was originally posted on November 27, 2013 with the title “Happy Thanksgiving!”

It’s almost inevitable that a cranberry blog would do an entry about Thanksgiving! It’s a holiday which really is a chance for us here at Pine Island to relax and enjoy the fruits of our labor. (Sorry.) Many traditions in the Haines family come from cranberries, both our own and through the Ocean Spray cooperative. And best of all, they’re usually locally sauced! (Really sorry. We’ll stop now.) CEO Bill Haines goes out every year toward the end of harvest and hand scoops several pounds of berries for family use, using a wooden scoop that’s been in the family for generations.

Huge thanks to our friends at Ocean Spray for allowing us to use the following recipes and photographs, as well as posting the information showing us how these recipes are berry good for both you as well as the environment! (We said we were done. We lied. After all, cranberry farming can be a barrel of laughs.)

To start off, of course, you’ll want a cocktail. Vodka and cranberry is a popular combination, but did you know it actually has a name? To make a Cape Codder, you’ll just need the following:

Ingredients:

6 ounces Ocean Spray® Cranberry Juice Cocktail, chilled
1 1/2 ounces vodka
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Directions:

Pour into a tall glass filled with ice. Makes 1 serving.

Of course, you can’t have a turkey without stuffing. Cape Cod Cornbread Stuffing just fits the bill:

Ingredients:

2 cups cornbread stuffing cubes
1/2 pound sausage meat, cooked, drained and crumbled
1 cup Ocean Spray® Fresh or Frozen Cranberries
1/2 cup diced onion
1/3 cup chopped pecans
2 teaspoons thyme
1/2 cup chicken broth

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Combine all ingredients, except chicken broth, in a medium casserole dish. Add chicken broth; mix well. Add more chicken broth for a moister stuffing. Cover and bake for 30 minutes or until heated through. Makes 3 cups.

The following is a classic for a reason; it pairs perfectly with a leftover turkey sandwich! (Or, as some first graders we know have done…mix it with mayo and put it on a hamburger. To each her own.)

Homemade Whole Berry Cranberry Sauce

Ingredients:

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 12-ounce package Ocean Spray® Fresh or Frozen Cranberries, rinsed and drained

Directions:

Combine water and sugar in a medium saucepan. Bring to boil; add cranberries, return to boil. Reduce heat and boil gently for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cover and cool completely at room temperature. Refrigerate until serving time.

Makes 2 1/4 cups.

This side dish doesn’t contain any cranberries, but who’s to say you couldn’t add some Craisins? [Ed. note, 11-15-2019: this recipe has been updated since this post was originally published, and the recipe now contains Craisins! We’re leaving the recipe as-is on our site, but please visit the updated link for this recipe and many more!]

Brussels Sprouts with Toasted Pecans

Ingredients:

1 1/2 pounds fresh brussels sprouts
2 tablespoons butter
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup chopped pecans, toasted
Salt and pepper

Directions:

Trim stems of brussels sprouts; remove any damaged leaves.

Place brussels sprouts in 3-quart saucepan; add water to just cover. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat; simmer until brussels sprouts are tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain; keep warm.

In the meantime, toast pecans. Place nuts in single layer on baking sheet. Bake in 350° oven 3 to 5 minutes or until light golden brown, watching carefully.

Melt butter in same saucepan over medium-high heat. Add garlic; cook and stir 30 seconds. Remove from heat. Stir in brussels sprouts and pecans; toss gently to coat. Season with salt and pepper.

Makes 6 servings.

Last but not least, we have dessert: a longtime family favorite is a cranberry nut pie that Bill’s mother used to make.

SARA’S CRANBERRY NUT PIE

Ingredients:

Filling:
2 cups cranberries
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup sugar

Topping:
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup melted butter
2 eggs
2 teaspoons almond extract

Directions:

Mix the first three ingredients together and spread in the bottom of a greased 10 in pie plate. Mix together the last five ingredients and pour over cranberry mixture. Bake 55-60 minutes in a preheated 325 degree oven. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

No photos of that last one…it usually gets eaten too quickly. Happy Thanksgiving, from all of us to all of you!

Harvest’s end – 2019

Our team picked the final bog for 2019 yesterday, bringing this year’s harvest to a close.

It was a tough season, weather-wise, which meant we had to slow down a lot while waiting for color.

While for the most part, we relied on our bog side cleaners, we did return to the old packing house platform to maximize what fruit we could from the younger beds! We also did some experimenting to improve our equipment: “We experimented with grate spacing on the bog side cleaners to eliminate rot and trash, as well as the brush cleaner at the packing house,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann.

We made some changes to our process as well! “We also took an assembly line approach for gathering; now that we have four cleaners we were able to send a team to get the bog ready to go ahead of time, which made the cleaning go more quickly,” Bryan says. “We were able to cover a lot of acres that way.”

Bryan is already getting ready for 2020 by working on some new training procedures ahead of next year’s harvest. And in the meantime, the rest of our team is getting ready for the next big task: the winter flood!

Picking methods

In the time since we launched this site, 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.

GoPro Gates Harrow from Pine Island Cranberry on Vimeo.

With the majority of our older bogs finished, we’re looking to make a strong finish with the harrows in the next week or so!

Harvest: Slowing down

The sun’s been shining (mostly!), the leaves are beginning to change, and the cooler October temperatures are finally starting to stick. But it’s not been consistent, so our team has slowed down a little bit.

The slightly warmer weather has meant that we’re not getting all the color that we want, so our team went down to one crew last week and even got a weekend off! Fortunately, this week has been an improvement.

“We were going to run three crews this week but the Stevens beds still have a higher white percentage than we want, so we decided to hold off for another week on those,” says operations manager Matt Giberson. “Right now we have two crews picking about 20 acres a day, mostly the Early Blacks and the Ben Lears we have left. We’re also dealing with frost this week, and our start temperature is a bit lower because we’re trying to give them as much as they’ll take. We’re just waiting for that magic number and hoping that changes color on the Stevens underneath the vine canopy.”

Our team is looking forward to a strong finish, and in the meantime, we’ll continue to do whatever it takes to bring the fruit in!

Ocean Spray: From Bog to Bottle 2019

Harvest time also means it’s time for one of our favorite annual traditions here at Pine Island Cranberry: a visit from George Giorno of Ocean Spray on his “Bog to Bottle” tour! George comes to see us every year, along with various account executives from some of Ocean Spray’s wholesale customers. This year, we were happy to see that George brought Greg McCann of Advantage Solutions for his fifth visit, as well as Jeremy Mitchell (also from Advantage) for his second visit and Michael Janeway (Category Manager Beverage/Juice) and Stephen Fox (Category Manager Dried Fruit) from Wakefern.

CEO Bill Haines met the group upon their arrival and walked them through a brief history of the farm and some of the changes we’ve made recently, and then it was off to see our harvest crew hard at work!

We’re taking things a little slow this week as we wait for the color, so the group wasn’t able to see the harrow in action, but they did see a crew on the reel harvesters and watched from the top of the bogside cleaner as the gathering crew finished one bed and sent the truck up the road to the receiving station. They also got to see our latest renovation at different growth stages, as well as a brief discussion about our forestry project and the quail initiative.

“Even though this was my fifth trip, I always learn something new or different,” says Greg McCann. “When Bill was explaining how you renovate the bogs, and the order the plants are in, I found that quite interesting, as you now have more tech in the cranberry harvesting process! I also never realized that you had your own sand pit, for lack of a better term, and how you mine the sand and moved it around the property.”

“The annual fall pilgrimage to visit the Haines Family at Pine Island remains the best part of my work calendar each and every October and this year was no different, ” George Giorno says. “We were fortunate enough this year to have Bill, Stef, and Michael as our farm tour hosts with our guests from Wakefern Food Corporation and our agency partners from Advantage Solutions. For our Wakefern guests, Michael Janeway and Stephen Fox, this was their first time experiencing the beauty of the cranberry harvest and for me, it was yet another day where I get to share the roots to the passion I hold for our cranberry business and pride it poses in our ownership. Our guests loved the farm tour and were so grateful they got to experience a cranberry harvest. As we drove home, they were already creating a list of associates for next season who they believed should attend a harvest. As an added bonus to this trip, we were also able to learn from Bill beyond the active cranberry harvest. Bill educated us about the importance of continuously renovating the older bogs to improve fruit quality and to enable more efficient drainage and harvesting methods. We visited several renovated bogs at different stages of their 3-5 year yield curves to witness the evolution of a new bog. These trips are just fascinating and such a positive learning experience – already, I can’t wait for next year’s visit!”

For our part, it continues to be a pleasure to speak with people who are genuinely enthusiastic about what they do and are so willing to completely immerse themselves in a new experience. It‘s always fun to have George and his team here and show our customers how we really do things. It’s good for them, and it’s good for us. Thanks again, George, for everything you and your team do. We’re looking forward to seeing you again!

Pine Island History: Black Rock

This week, harvest has progressed to the bogs behind our main office: the system called Black Rock.

CEO Bill Haines is a movie buff, and named the system Black Rock back when it was first built in the mid 70s.

Back in 2012, Black Rock suffered some damage after the region caught the edge of Hurricane Isaac.

New Jersey caught the tail end of Hurricane Isaac, who brought us over eighteen inches of rains (along with funnel clouds) and left us with an enormous amount of clean-up. . . we lost twenty dams on seven major reservoirs, irrigation main lines were damaged where dams washed out, and 50% of the farm was underwater at some point. Some bogs were only under for 24 hours, some for 48, and at Sim Place, where damage was heaviest, some of the bogs were under for almost 72 hours.

In 2015, Black Rock became the next set of beds to undergo renovation, where we experimented with some new forms of erosion control and some changes to our sanding process. They were planted with Mullica Queens in the fall of 2015, which means they’re just about up to full production!

It’s been an eventful few years for Black Rock, but things are looking good!