Bog renovation – spring 2018

Our spring 2018 planting is completed, and our team has already turned their attention to the next acreage in our multiyear bog renovation plan. This year, we plan to renovate over fifty acres at Cedar Swamp and Ben Haines.

Bog renovation is a time-consuming and capital-intensive but necessary project that will increase both yield and quality by improving bog and irrigation design. First, our team redesigns the layout, deciding how to best work with the surrounding water resources for maximum land use efficiency. They reshape some beds, remove the old vines, and do the initial leveling to prep the soil.

As we like to say so often, the three things most important to growing cranberries are water, water, and more water. Currently, the team is hard at work on the irrigation improvements. Effective bed drainage is critical, especially in New Jersey, where the humid climate can provide a favorable environment for Phytophthora cinnamomi, a known cause of root rot. Other improvements to the water system will include new gates, rebuilt ditches, and relocation of pumps, if necessary. As part of our irrigation redesign, and with the redesign of some of the beds, it’s sometimes necessary to make some changes in order to maximize water flow to the pump. Relocation of the pump houses is also helpful for improved access, both for refueling and repairs.

Bog renovation is a key component to maintaining Pine Island’s core values of continuous improvement, continuous growth, and protecting the environment. Increasing production over time through bog renovation and decreasing the time to achieve full production is essential to accomplish our growth objectives.

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!

Autumn tasks

While getting the crop in is our #1 priority at Pine Island every autumn, our team is also hard at work on other important tasks through the harvest season and beyond!

Bog Renovation manager Steve Manning has been busy with the current stages of our reno program. “Most recently we’ve been out working on the next stage at Cedar Swamp,” Steve says. “We got about 3.5 inches of rain over the weekend, so we’ve had to spend some time fixing washouts. But we’re also getting ready to put down the underdrain as well as shoring up the sides of the new dams to help prevent erosion. Next week we’ll start putting gates in again.” With only two harvest crews running, he also has the help of stalwart team members Junior Colon, Wilfredo Pagan, Harry Mick, and Bob Heritage, as well Jeremy Fenstermaker to pitch in with the irrigation layout.

New Production manager Mike Haines is also pretty busy. “We took all the sprinklers out of the new beds a week ago after we got a decent amount of rain,” he says. “The main thing is preparing for all the the post-harvest stuff to improve things for next year.” This mainly means working on drainage improvement; water management, as always, is a top priority for our entire team. “We’ve gotten away from interior ditches in the past couple years and moved to drainage tile, or underdrain,” Mike says. “But last spring we decided to try putting in some trenches, and we’re going to try putting in some more this year. We’ll see if that helps. Trenches help get surface water off a lot more than drain tile did.” He’s expecting a trencher to arrive Monday, and our equipment team is also building one in-house. “I did a survey after the rain, because it was biggest storm all year,” he says. “The young beds generally held up pretty well. A couple of big washouts, which had Steve kind of disappointed. . .but I think it would have been a lot worse without the work he’s already been putting in.”

Other tasks include doing some raking in the bogs that got a little growth, and then working on this year’s sanding plan. And in the meantime, we’re going to finish bringing in those berries!

Planting – May 2017

A couple of weeks ago we mentioned that the team is getting ready to start planting at Mule Island, one of our newly renovated bogs!

As we mentioned then, the team is planting the Mullica Queen variety. Per Rutgers, “Mullica Queen offers excellent yield potential with equal or higher color than Stevens,” and while we currently only have one Mullica Queen bed that’s attained full growth, it’s been a highly productive one.

There are two methods of planting: conventional propagation, which means pressing mowed vines or prunings directly into the bogs to be established; and rooted cuttings, which means planting plants with roots already established. Pine Island has used both methods in the past, but mainly we’ve moved on to using rooted cuttings. Another concern with planting is implementing an irrigation program, both with ground water and sprinklers, that provides moisture for vine growth without causing excessive soil saturation, which can lead to favorable conditions for phytopthora, which in turn can lead to fruit or root rot. Pine Island uses both ditches and sprinklers for irrigation. During the early spring, after the winter flood is removed, irrigation is usually covered by our frost protection program. However, concerns for adequate soil moisture should not be forgotten during frost season. Several warm, sunny days without rain or frost irrigation can result in the need for irrigation. Checking the soil yourself is extremely important; tensiometers are good, but it’s important to learn the hands-on method, as well.

Our team has made some scheduling changes as well; we’ve experimented with timing over the past few years and this year decided to try planting each newly renovated system as soon as it’s complete. “We’re going to put the plants in early, see how they do, then we’re just going to keep going every month,” COO Bryan vonHahmann said back in April. “During our last reno we planted 60 acres in a month, which is a lot of work. Planting in the heat is pretty stressful on the crew, as well, so trying to do it in one week intervals instead as well as moving the timing helps with that, too.”

The process remains the same: rooted cuttings are taken from the cart and loaded onto the planter. Team members seated on the planter drop the vines into the carousel and then the vines are distributed into the pre-dug furrow. The planter is followed by other crew members, who make sure that the vines have been placed correctly.

Running the planting operation is a true challenge: coordinating everything, getting the right plants at the right time with the right people, constantly adjusting the planters, and identifying problems and how to fix them. But Matt Stiles, in his second planting season, is doing very well. The Mule Island system is going to take a little longer than expected due to the rainstorms this week, but if there’s one thing you learn early in agriculture, it’s that you can’t control the weather!

Spring updates – 2017

The team is keeping very busy this month, as always!

Bog renovation is going well, with the new irrigation going in at Mule Island in preparation for planting. “We’ll be putting in the Mullica Queen variety,” says manager Mike Haines. “It’s a later variety, like the Stevens it’s replacing, so it should be a good fit.” A later variety means they attain their full color later in the season. Per Rutgers, “Mullica Queen offers excellent yield potential with equal or higher color than Stevens,” and while we currently only have one Mullica Queen bed that’s attained full growth, it’s been a highly productive one.

The reno team has also been working on erosion control, which is always an ongoing concern.

Things have been hectic this week with frost, of course, but that should be slowing down a bit. “It’s been a busy frost week, which we knew was coming,” says Matt Giberson. “But it’s looking like that will lighten up for a little while.”

Unfortunately, part of the reason we’re expecting less frost is due to the expected heavy rains this weekend. But our equipment team is making sure the Crisafulli pumps are ready to go if needed, and dam maintenance is ongoing in order to minimize the risk of washouts!

Bog renovation 2017 – updates!

Bog renovation has been ongoing since last fall, with 80 acres as our goal for 2017 and 107 acres in 2018.

Our bog renovation team has made some changes to our process this year! “This time, what we’re trying to do is renovate one complete system at a time,” explains COO Bryan vonHahmann. “We’re going to complete a whole system, then go on to the next system, complete that one, and so on. We’re trying to structure our completion date with when Abbott can get us plants, as soon as possible.” That means the team should finish the first system, including planting, by mid-May. “We’re going to put the plants in early, see how they do, then we’re just going to keep going every month,” Bryan says. “During our last reno we planted 60 acres in a month, which is a lot of work. Planting in the heat is pretty stressful on the crew, as well, so trying to do it in one week intervals instead as well as moving the timing helps with that, too.”

There have also been some challenges with this year’s project! “Since we tried to do as much renovation through the wintertime as possible, we have problems with reservoirs being high and bogs being flooded around the ones we’re renovating,” Bryan says. “The water comes through dams and gets into bogs we’re trying to work on. We bought a new pump last year, which runs 24/7 just to keep bogs we’re working in drained.”

Another challenge was staffing: many team members take well-deserved time off in the winter, so between vacation schedules and our usual winter sanding going at full steam, our team just did what they could to keep the reno bogs dry. Our team is also building some new tools for renovation, which should help us improve how we install underdrain, “We designed and built a new plow to help us remove dirt and help put underdrain in, which should also help a lot,” Bryan says. “We’re trying to do more of our own stuff instead of using subcontractors.”

One of Pine Island’s strength is that our team doesn’t keep doing something just because that’s the way we’ve always done it, and we’re looking forward to seeing how this new approach to renovation works!

Spring Targets – 2017

The weather today is perfect for a blog update on our targets for this spring!

. . . Well, it’s giving us something to look forward to, anyway. Our team is currently finishing up their winter tasks and preparing for the growing season, and so far, things are going well.

“We’ve already taken the water off the beds that are in either their first or second growing season,” says CEO Bill Haines. “We’ve also made good progress this winter on renovation thanks to mild weather, and are hoping to be ahead of schedule so we can begin work on the new renovation project. Sanding is on track; we’ll finish within a week, then start taking water off the established beds as well as start getting irrigation set up and removing swan strings. We’re going to continue to get the dams ready for use of the semis.”

As always, fruit rot is an ongoing concern. “Mike and his team are thinking hard and talking with the scientists at Rutgers and Ocean Spray to see what we can do to better control rot,” Bill says. “We’ve had increased rot for past couple years while standards from the market are higher and higher, so that’s important for us to work on. We’re also looking into improving our equipment; we want to prevent rot altogether, but with either additional equipment or improved equipment we can also try removing rot before delivering to Ocean Spray.” And, of course, our renovation program is expected to assist with this. “We have an entirely new system that we upgraded last year; we’re trying a different layout as well as different sprinkler heads to see if we can improve coverage. We’re also going to work on modifying one of our buggies as a prototype for doing ground coverage as part of rot control.”

“Mainly I’ve been doing a lot of prepwork,” says ICM manager Mike Haines. “Once it gets busier I’d rather not make decisions on the fly; it’s much to have stuff planned out beforehand. So I’ve been spending time with Peter [Oudemans], Dan [Schiffhauer] and Cesar [Rodriguez-Saona] as well as emailing with Joan [Davenport]. We’re mainly thinking about early season applications and putting micronutrients on, specifically copper and zinc. We’re also planning our roughneck fertilizer, which is our first application after micronutrients, basing our decisions on tissue samples, and last year’s yield. For example, everything that got sanded won’t get nitrogen; that sand layer of sand helps decomposition, which in turn increases nitrogen. One interesting thing, looking at tissue samples at Sim Place: the nitrogen levels are higher there, so we’re not making any applications during the roughneck stage. What’s neat about is that we know that the soil is different than at the home farm–it’s much sandier at the home farm–but it’s pretty cool to see that actually reflected in the numbers.”

He’s also working a plan to “culturally” attack the fruit rot issue. “This year we’re gong back to pruning some beds. The hope is that opening up the canopy will lead to a drier canopy and less fruit rot,” Mike says. “We haven’t done it in a few years, though other growers have, so we’re going back to it to see what we can find out.” Other things Mike’s team is working on: Tim Bourgeois is working on getting bees, as well as making sure we’re compliant on safety regulations; Matt Stiles is already working on young beds, replacing some plants that popped out during winter flood; Vanessa DeJesus is going through ICM supplies and making sure we have everything we needed before we kick into high gear.

And, of course, our team is doing the usual ongoing equipment maintenance as well as designing some improvements. “We experimented last year with the dry fertilizer applications on the new buggy,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann. “We learned a lot from that; we discovered it was under-powered, as well as having a few other small issues, so we’re remedying that. We’re also going to be experimenting with using it for liquid applications; it may not be the final unit that we use, but it’s going to teach us a lot. Mike’s working on the criteria for this; we’ll pick one or two systems that will use it exclusively for the entire season and see how we do.” We’re also moving ahead with the next stage of pump automation as well as thinking ahead to harvest. “There are quite a few things we need to do there,” Bryan says. “We’re going to build two more blower tractors, and we’re getting a third bog side cleaner. We’re also going to have some folks come in and talk to us about how to tweak our machinery at the loading platform to try and eliminate rot before sending fruit up to Chatsworth.”

That’s quite a list, but our team, as always, is prepared to work hard and do everything we do better every day!

Gate construction

While this week’s snowstorm was mild in comparison to last year’s, it still means our team had to suspend our sanding operation and move to other tasks, because our team never stops! Today, some team members shifted to building gates for our latest renovation project. Each year our planned renovations includes the removal of wooden floodgates and replacing them with the newer PVC gate design.

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“Changing to this type of gate was the best thing we’ve ever done,” says one team member. “They’re easier to manage and we get a lot more flexibility of use.”

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Longtime team member Wilfredo Pagan is in charge of this operation. “Pipe gates are better,” he says. “They’re easier to install, and they last longer, too.” First, though, he has to set up the laser level in order to make sure the gate is set up correctly. The team will be able to put the new gate in at the same depth as the old one. This is where they have to be careful; if it’s not even the two parts of the new gate can shift over time since they’re not one solid piece of pipe. “Once you put them together, the only thing holding them is dirt and pressure,” Wilfredo says. “If you have a situation where the canal is deeper than the ditch, you have to measure at the top of the dam and set it so the uprights are level with it. If the canal is lower than bog and you don’t adjust for it, it can wash out underneath.”

In the meantime, Junior Colon has been on the excavator making sure the water’s been blocked off in both the canal and the ditches. “Once that’s blocked off, we can start digging,” he says.

After the water is stopped, it’s time to start digging up the dam. “We go right down to the top of the boards on the old gate,” says Junior, “and then we have to continue to dig behind it to get the turf out and make sure the water’s all gone.”

Once the excavator clears out the dirt around the old gate, it’s time to lift each side one at a time to put the chains on for easier lifting.

The old gate then gets lifted onto a waiting tractor and hauled away.

Once the new gate is installed, the team will fill the dirt back and then haul in turf to patch the sides before crowning the dam and moving on to the next gate!

Planting – 2016

Our team has finished planting the latest set of renovated bogs, and things are looking good!

Since 2014 we’ve been planting in late summer in order to take advantage of the weather, the longer daylight hours, and the increased team availability. There are two methods of planting: conventional propagation, which means pressing mowed vines or prunings directly into the bogs to be established; and rooted cuttings, which means planting plants with roots already established. Pine Island has used both methods in the past, but mainly we’ve moved on to using rooted cuttings. Another concern with planting is implementing an irrigation program, both with ground water and sprinklers, that provides moisture for vine growth without causing excessive soil saturation, which can lead to favorable conditions for phytopthora, which in turn can lead to fruit or root rot. Pine Island uses both ditches and sprinklers for irrigation. During the early spring, after the winter flood is removed, irrigation is usually covered by our frost protection program. However, concerns for adequate soil moisture should not be forgotten during frost season. Several warm, sunny days without rain or frost irrigation can result in the need for irrigation. Checking the soil yourself is extremely important; tensiometers are good, but it’s important to learn the hands-on method, as well.

“We planted 79 acres this year,” says supervisor Matt Stiles. “We averaged a little over 5 acres a day with two machines and a crew of 24.” This year’s variety is Mullica Queen, chosen because of its timing. “We went with that one due to the geography of this year’s reno. By the time they’re ready to go we can pick one area all at the same time.”

This was Matt’s first year running the planting operation, and he did well. “It was definitely a challenge,” he says. “Coordinating everything, getting the right plants at the right time with the right people. Constantly adjusting the planters, how to identify a problem and how to fix it. And you have to be very careful working around the irrigation system; it’s tough for the driver on the tractor to actually see the sprinklers. But everyone did really well.”

“We planted more acres per days than we ever have,” says manager Mike Haines. “We now have two twelve-row planters now, after replacing the eight-row we sent to Chile. Last year we averaged 4.25 acres a day, and this year we got a little over 5 per day. Which is a lot more, especially with the heat this year. It was a big obstacle for Matt to overcome, but he did a great job.”

And as a bonus, Matt also took some video! If you think the GoPro gave us some great point-of-view shots, wait till you see this!

*Photos/video courtesy of Matt Stiles.

Around the farm

The rain has let up a little, and our team is out there making things happen!

Bog renovation, of course, remains a top priority, with Junior Colon land-leveling and with the team putting in water lines.

Facilities and Equipment are working on refurbishing the pumps and putting up new pump houses:

In other sections of the farm, regular bog maintenance is ongoing, and the new monitors are going up:

And last but not least, our forestry management areas appear to be thriving!