Breaking bud

When it comes to agriculture, too much rain can be just as bad as not enough. And there’s been quite a bit of rain in the area over the past couple of weeks.

“Getting too much rain is not conducive to growing cranberries,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann. “We’re in the growing season now, but heavy rains can delay that, a little.” It doesn’t just affect the cranberries: “All the work slows down: maintenance, renovation. . .everything else we need to do. So our team has other tasks to work on. We’re rebuilding sprinklers, cleaning up trees, repairing dams, doing anything we can do in poor weather. It all needs to be done; it just means we need to get more done later.”

“The rain and the colder temperatures mean the buds aren’t growing as quickly as they should,” says manager Mike Haines. “Right now in the established beds we should be seeing signs of bud break, so Vanessa, Tim, and I are scouting growth stages every day…but the rain slows that down for us.”

In addition to negatively affecting plant growth, many tasks normally undertaken during the growing season have been delayed as well. “It’s held up some fertilizer applications we want to put on the young beds,” Mike says. “The minute you take water off you want new plants to start growing like crazy throughout the whole season. But since it’s so wet, we can’t fertigate because the beds are saturated already. We can’t use the Gephardt because it’ll get stuck, and planes are a no-go. There’s not enough acreage ready to really justify bringing the planes in, anyway, so those applications are delayed.”

“Planting is stalled as well; we’re still not done planting the Haines variety in Warehouse #1, because it’s too wet for the planter,” he says. “Water is sitting on top of the new growth, so we’re also talking about putting underdrain in there.” There is, however, a bright side! “I can catch up on office work! Right now I’m making a bee map, which will help coordinate the beekeepers when the time comes. We’ll be pretty busy when it finally warms up!”

Harvest wrap-up: 2015

Harvest is over for another year, and our teams are ready to move on to their winter tasks. This week, some of them reflected on this year’s harvest, and what some of the differences were this year.

“Based on crop conditions, we found ourselves needing to change our harvest strategy significantly,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann. “It was great to see the crew leads pull together and work through the new plan that was evolving every day; this was all done while learning new equipment and working on increasing efficiency, and we still completed harvest on time.”

GM Fred Torres was similarly pleased: “We had to make new plans, but once we did I feel they were well executed,” he says. “It was a job well done, as far as moving water was concerned.” He emphasized that the plans didn’t just include flooding, but actually moving water from place to place with the help of Crisafulli pumps, thanks to difficulties with the weather. This meant our picking crews also had some logistical challenges with equipment, due to the change in picking patterns. “We had to move more people and equipment around than we usually do; move a truck here, a tractor there, put extra men on the picking machines because they were picking a large bog out of the ‘usual’ order. It took planning, but in the end we did what we had to do, and we did it well!”

Team leader Matt Giberson learned a lot about water management this year. “You never stop learning,” he says, “but this year in particular had a lot to offer. All three teams mostly picked their usual assigned bogs, but we all stretched a little and went to some different sections this year. I learned a lot about different ways to flood. At the beginning of the season we had very little water; we got that big rain, which helped, but then it started drying up again. It kept us on our toes!” The bogside cleaner, which his crew ran, was also a test for them: “I was really worried the first week; it was a rough start. But the shop and the team both said, we’re gonna figure this out, and we stuck together and made a lot of great changes. There are still a couple of things to improve on, but we can fix it. I have some ideas, and so do the guys on the equipment team.” This was also Matt’s first year with the Gates Harrow, and he quickly figured out where it would work best and why.

This week, we also said goodbye to our seasonal crew until next year! Thank you, guys…we’ll see you next fall!

Wisconsin visit

Last week, Pine Island’s CEO Bill Haines and COO Bryan vonHahmann, along with Cranberry Austral Chile GM Francisco Prado, flew out to Wisconsin to visit various members of the cranberry community in order to learn more about how the industry works in other regions and bring back their experiences to apply to our own operation in both New Jersey and Chile.

They spent two days with Leroy Kummer, a Sr. Agricultural Scientist with Ocean Spray and the Tomah Receiving Station Manager. “Leroy was with us for two days,” Bill says. “He put in a lot of time and effort to accommodate us, and knows the industry inside and out. He’s a valuable asset to both OS and the growers, and we were glad he was able to take us around.”

The group also visited six different operations, all of them “very impressive”, Bill says. Ed Grygleski of Valley Corp, Steve Gephardt of Beltz Cranberry, Bill Hatch and Nicole Hansen at Cranberry Creek, Chris Weidman of City Point Cranberries, Martin Potter at Cutler Cranberry, and Craige I. Scott and Craige P. Scott of Scott Cranberry Marsh were very generous with their time and knowledge, and all run an excellent operation. Francisco was particularly interested in this part of the tour: “We are in the middle of updating our equipment program [at CAC], so it was good to see what they are doing with things like fertilizer sprayers; our farm is growing, so we need to go faster!” It was very helpful to see farms at different sizes, as well, as it gives him a basis for comparison. “It’s a great opportunity,” he says. “There is always room to improve; there is always something to learn from other growers.” Bryan agrees: “Sharing ideas and practices can help us all improve, and it’s given us more energy and renewed focus on our mission.”

Our management team also spent some time at the Tomah plant, touring the Craisin line, and were impressed with the team there as well. “Andrea Gavette [Plant Manager at Tomah] gave us a really in-depth tour; Tomah is a well-run facility, and it was great to see her team so enthusiastic about what they do,” says Bill.

And, of course, Bill, Bryan, and Francisco always have an eye out for our own continuous improvement. As Bill says: “These growers are clearly the gold standard for the cranberry industry, and now we see what we have to do to be one of the best.”

*photos courtesy of Francisco Prado

From Bill’s Desk: “Continuous Improvement”

One in an occasional series of entries by CEO Bill Haines.

Pine Island Cranberry is pleased to announce the creation of the position of Chief Operating Officer (COO). We are also pleased to announce Bryan vonHahmann has agreed to accept those responsibilities. Over the last several years, Pine Island Cranberry has grown in size, productivity and professionalism. As we have grown the business has become much more complex. With the purchase of control of Cranberries Austral Chile, the development of our Forestry business and the pursuit of additional opportunities for growth, we need additional talent and skills to pursue our mission to “continue our tradition of excellence”. After much discussion over several months, the Board of Advisors and I decided to create the position of COO. To help us select the best person to fill that role, we chose the search firm of Heidrick & Struggles. This is a major step forward for Pine Island as it fulfills our core values of continuous growth and continuous improvement.

Bryan has 25 years of multiple work experiences. He began his career as an aerospace engineer and then returned to his family business, Empire Tractor, Inc. Through his leadership, the company achieved significant growth, becoming one of the largest agricultural equipment dealerships in the state of New York. Since 2006 he has been a senior executive at Dairy Farmers of America, a national dairy cooperative. His experiences of leading and growing a family business as well as creating a culture of continuous improvement will bring significant value to Pine Island.

Bryan will be officially starting January 1, 2014. I am very excited that we have found such a highly qualified person and I am excited that he has agreed to join the team. All of the Pine Island team looks forward to working with Bryan as we continue to grow high quality, nutritious cranberries for a healthier world.