From Bill’s Desk: Keeping our team safe

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

On Monday, March 23, Bill addressed our team about recent world events and how Pine Island has decided to handle the pandemic in the short term.

After giving it a lot of thought, we decided the prudent thing to do was to shut down for at least a week. The management team will meet next Monday and assess what’s going on in the world, and then we’ll decide whether we’re going to work next Tuesday or not. If we decide it’s a no go, we’ll wait another week and assess.

We understand that everyone has families to take care of and bills to pay, so we’re going to make sure everyone gets their weekly paycheck.

We also understand that this is a farm and Mother Nature doesn’t wait. We need to grow the crop and we need to harvest it. We understand this is going to put us behind. Whenever we can come back to work, we’re going to do whatever it takes to catch up. If that means working dark to dark and Saturdays and Sundays, that’s what we’re going to do. We’ve never been through a pandemic but we’ve been through plenty of emergencies: in the Labor Day flood of 2012, we had 16 inches of rain in 9 hours that took out all of our reservoirs and many of our interior dams, as well as damaging irrigation systems. And we put all that back together in three weeks and started harvest right on time. So I know that my team can do that; we can do whatever it is we have to do.

I also want to remind everyone to do everything that’s been requested of them in terms of social distancing and washing their hands, etc. This is to keep everyone safe. This is not just time off; this is to keep all of us safe. Stay home, take care of yourselves, and take care of your families.

For our readers: please take care of yourselves and stay safe. We’re all in this together!

Blog anniversary – 2020

Eight years ago today, Pine Island Cranberry launched this website and started a weekly blog about the ins and outs of the New Jersey cranberry harvest, and it’s been another busy year!

Not long after our last blog anniversary post, there was a fire in the area that you might have heard about. The local community, of course, turned out in force, as they always do. We remain proud of our team and our neighbors!

Speaking of neighbors, we also launched a new occasional feature where you can meet some of our fellow New Jersey growers! So far we’ve profiled our immediate neighbors in the north (the Lees) and the south (the Sooys, and most recently, had a chance to speak with the Cutts family! This feature is now second only to harvest as a reader (and blogger) favorite, and you can look forward to more in the coming year.

The ACGA also continues to be a source of information and community for New Jersey growers as well; our team members attended meetings (along with researchers from the Marucci Center at Rutgers) in both winter and summer, as usual. In addition, this year it was Pine Island’s turn to host the annual twilight meeting.

In farming, you do what you have to do when you have to do it, and our team continued to make sure that all necessary task were completed as necssary, from prescribed burning to this year’s bog renovation plan. Winter work like sanding, installing swan string, and putting on the winter flood went smoothly, though a bit warmer than they’d like. Last spring and summer they handled taking off the water, frost, and planting, and bees, as well as getting our usual visits from Dr. Joan Davenport and taking her suggestions for plant nutrition. They also spent a considerable amount of time getting everything ready for our biggest season of all.

The annual harvest is everyone’s favorite time of year, from start to finish. Our team did some experimenting with picking methods,a nd had to make some temperature based changes. And of course, we were able to show around some supermarket buyers on the annual Ocean Spray Bog to Bottle tour!

There were also some changes at Ocean Spray that will have a big effect for New Jersey: Dan Schiffhauer retired! Fortunately, he was able to help choose his successor, and our team was very pleased to welcome Lindsay Wells-Hansen back to the area and are looking forward to getting her input during the growing season.

The Pine Island team hit some personal milestones since last March! Jorge Morales retired, while Wilfredo Pagan and Emmanuel Colon had significant work anniversaries. Our team has also gone out into the community with a presentation at Lakeside Garden Club, welcomed back Moorestown Friends for another visit, and even saw former CFO Holly Haines receive some service recognition.

Our team also continued to be good sports about the annual Thanksgiving post. (Thank you all.)

We also managed to have a little fun this year. Another new occasional feature is an addition to our Pine Island history tag: some backstory to some of our more colorful bog names!

Last but not least, Pine Island (and the NJ cranberry industry) appeared in several media articles toward the end of the year. Of course, there were some lovely photos by the Burlington County Times, and a fun feature about the weather from Joe Martucci of the Press of Atlantic City. Many of our friends and neighbors were interviewed for a piece that appeared on The Pulse. And best of all, a local fourth grade class is trying to make cranberry juice the New Jersey state beverage!

It’s been an eventful year for Pine Island Cranberry! And we’re going to keep doing what we need to do, now and in the future, to keep bringing you the high quality fruit that our industry – and New Jersey – is known for.

Meet Our Neighbors: The Cutts Family

The New Jersey cranberry industry is small, but it is mighty. Welcome to the next installment of our occasional series about some of our fellow New Jersey cranberry growers! This week, we spoke with fifth generation grower and (ACGA President) Shawn Cutts of Cutts Brothers.

1. How long has your family been in the business?

Our family has been growing cranberries since at least 1906 when we purchased bogs in Tabernacle. Currently we have bogs in Bass River, Washington, and Tabernacle. We joined the Ocean Spray Cooperative in 1948. Five generations of the family have worked on the bogs including the three generations currently in the business.

2. What’s your favorite aspect of cranberry farming?

Harvest is everyone’s favorite season of the year at the bogs. Not only is it the time when all of your hard work is realized, it is also a great time for our family to work together and for visitors and friends to come share in the experience. Of course, a sea of floating red berries on a perfect fall day is a beautiful sight that is difficult to beat.

3. What has been your biggest challenge?

There is never a shortage of challenges for cranberry growers. Weather, bugs, weeds, rot, disease, governmental issues, and market uncertainty come to mind. All take turns at the top of our list. Collectively as growers we work hard to address these issues as best we can. We are fortunate to have some of the world’s top cranberry researchers close by at the Rutgers Marucci Cranberry Research Center.

4. What makes your operation unique?

Perhaps not unique, but certainly uncommon these days is the way we work together as a family. Whenever it is harvest time or there is a big project such as planting, nearly everyone in the family pitches in to help in some way. Whether it is running a picker, driving a tractor, gathering sprinklers, or cooking meals, everyone contributes. Other family members from Tennessee, Alabama, and Texas also come for all or part of the harvest season to help out. Although we are all exhausted by the end of the day, it is gratifying to accomplish the day’s work together as a family.

5. What’s a legendary story in your family?

There are many stories. The one that stands out for me took place when I was in middle school. It was an unusually cold frost night and much of the family was away attending a funeral. My dad and grandfather were the only ones left to run the sprinklers for frost. That night it got so cold that the sprinkler heads began to ice over and stop turning. I still remember my mom bursting into my room in the middle of the night and telling me to get dressed immediately to go to the bogs. After racing out there, my mom, my younger brother, and I spent the rest of the night breaking ice off sprinklers. It seemed like it took forever for the sun to rise, but when it finally did we had succeeded in saving the crop. Much to my displeasure, there was still time to make it to school that morning.

*Photos courtesy of Shawn Cutts.

Previously: The Sooy Family

ACGA Winter Meeting 2020

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 2020 growing season. In addition, it’s a great chance for the local cranberry community to catch up to each other after the busy harvest season.

Matt Giberson was particularly interested in Dr. Nick Vorsa’s talk on hybrids: “I thought the cross breeding with the hybrid varieties that have the powderlike skin similar to blueberries is an interesting approach to help with fruit quality.” He also liked the presentation on machine learnin by Joe Kawash. “I also think the machine thinking process of fruit quality is something that would not just benefit Ocean Spray, but also the grower. If we had the ability to screen fruit on site to give instant results, it would be able to allow us to plan better for harvest.”

Our team was also pleased to get an update from Dr. Thierry Besançon on one of our most persistent weed issues. “It was good to get a recommendation, with data to support it, on how to better control red root,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann.

Mike Haines agrees: “I really enjoyed both talks on weed control at the meeting. I’m looking forward to trying out Thierry’s suggestions this coming growing season, because it sounds like that could be a big step in attacking our red root problem. And Katie Ghantous’ presentation was really interesting, as well. She came down from Massachusetts and talked about the growing problem of moss in cranberry bogs, and that’s something I’ve started to see here and there in New Jersey. It’s always interesting to hear different perspectives and hear what’s new in the other growing regions.”

Mike Scullion was also fascinated by the machine learning discussion. “It really sounds like a promising method for developing new varieties for the future,” he says. “And I like how he simplified the algorithm for us to better understand how it works. I’m excited to see what they come up with!”

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!

A visit from DC

In October 2014, Pine Island had a visit from Senator Cory Booker; during that same week, our neighbors at Lee Brothers received a visit from Senator Robert Menendez. This week, a group of New Jersey cranberry growers welcomed Senator Menendez’s aide Rob Childers, who had been unable to make it the last time and has been wanting to come see us ever since!

Rob’s afternoon in cranberry country started with a video at the Lees before moving on to Pine Island, where we immediately put him to work! He was able to see both the reel harvesters and the newer Gates Harrow in action, as well as the entire gathering procedure from start to finish.

After that, he stopped by the Marucci Center for a chat with director Nick Vorsa and a tour of the greenhouses.

The final stop was a tour of the Ocean Spray receiving station.

“We would like to thank Rob on behalf of Rutgers, Ocean Spray, and the Cutts, Haines, and Lee families for making the personal effort to visit with us during cranberry harvest,” says grower Steve Lee III. “We hope the visit gave him a new perspective on the cranberry industry in the NJ Pinelands and the nationwide importance of the unique agricultural research that is conducted here.”

*Some photos provided by Steve Lee III.

ACGA Summer Field Day – 2019

This week several Pine Island Cranberry team members attended the annual American Cranberry Growers Association (ACGA) summer field day at the Rutgers extension center. While several topics are similar to those discussed at the winter meeting, the field day is a chance to go out and explore the researchers’ valuable work first hand!

Jeremy Fenstermaker:

It was nice catching up with everybody, as always! I enjoyed the talk about the winter flooding; that was interesting. The sanding experiment was something I’ve been thinking about for a while, so it was nice seeing the results of that.

Justin Ross:

I think there are some really neat things coming soon with the use of gene sequencing. Hopefully we will see this speed up the development of of new varieties. James and Nick are doing great work.

Altogether, another successful field day! Thank you to the entire staff at the Marucci Center for all of your hard work in putting it together.

Vendors: Legacy Advisors

This entry was originally posted on August 12, 2016.

This week, a brief look at one of our favorite vendors: Legacy Advisors!

Legacy Advisors, located in Plymouth Meeting, PA, has been helping Pine Island with our financial planning for over a decade. From the Legacy website:

We believe helping our clients focus on everything that is important to them and establishing specific objectives which must be accomplished differentiates us from other advisors. The ability to ask the right questions and listen is a lost art today.

Through a series of open, in-depth discussions, we help our clients focus on what’s most important to them, their family and their business. The true art of our business is in asking the right questions to guide and compel our clients to evaluate their priorities. Through thoughtful listening, we get to the core of their beliefs, business goals and personal wishes.

Once objectives have been established, we work with our client’s trusted team of advisors to make certain that every aspect of their plan is implemented, properly communicated and kept up to date.

John Krol and his team do all that for us, and more. He and his team also share Pine Island’s belief in giving back to the community, and their foundation has worked over the past several years to benefit such organizations as the Children’s Scholarship Fund, La Comunidad Hispana, the Garage Community & Youth Center, and many more.

The quality of life in our region is important to everyone who lives and works here. The Legacy Foundation is our way of giving back to the communities we so proudly serve, so that we may do our part to improve the lives of those who need it most.

Established in 2003, The Legacy Foundation is a non-profit organization that provides support for children and adults who, through no cause of their own, are socially, mentally, or physically deprived.

It’s really the personal touch that makes working with Legacy such a wonderful experience, and John’s strong background and familiarity with family businesses make Legacy an excellent choice. He spent many years working with a family-owned manufacturing business as CFO as well as their VP of International Business, which gives him a strong sense of understanding for family and financial issues when designing an optimal financial plan for business owners today.

“I’ve worked with John for almost sixteen years now,” says Pine Island CEO/Owner Bill Haines. “I was concerned with business succession and estate planning, and his advice has been tremendously helpful. I feel much more comfortable with where we are both personally and as a company, thanks to his efforts.” And it’s not just John; the personal commitment to excellence goes from the top down. His whole team is great to work with, at every level that we deal with them; they’re always helpful, always professional, and always get stuff done. “John has become a trusted advisor on more than estate planning and business succession,” Bill says. “He sits on our Board of Advisors and his advice is always insightful, helpful, and welcome. He’s become more than an advisor, he’s a friend.

“If anyone feels they need advice in estate planning, business succession, general finance, or any business issue, I never hesitate to recommend Legacy.”

Lakeside Garden Club

This week, Pine Island team members Matt Giberson and Debra Signorelli organized a presentation about cranberries for the Lakeside Garden Club of Cedar Glen Lakes! It’s unusual but very exciting to give a cranberry talk in the middle of July, so we were all looking forward to it!

The Lakeside Garden Club at Cedar Glen Lakes holds monthly meetings that feature a variety of speakers ranging from general interest to garden and environmental issues in the community. They are also a certified “Hummingbird and Butterfly Friendly” community and emphasize preservation of honey bees, so they were a natural fit to hear about some of our year round growing practices.

The presentation began with a brief Haines family history, then Matt took over and walked the group through a typical year in the life of a cranberry grower, listing the various tasks the team performs each season and taking questions as he went along.

“It was a good experience to present in front of this crowd,” Matt says. “It’s interesting for them because they live so close to local growers, they’ve seen cranberry bogs when driving through the area, and now they have a closer look at what we do. It’s always an eye opener!”

“We were privileged to have such a wonderful and informative presentation on the history of the farm and how the bogs run and are maintained,” says club member Carole Nevins, who is also the proud mother of Debra Signorelli. “Our members were blown away to hear about all the different machines used and the long man hours needed to grow cranberries. We are still sharing how interesting the talks were. We all agree, we will never take those little red berries for granted again!”

Big thanks to the Lakeside Garden Club for having us; it was a wonderful chance to chat with some lovely people!

Twilight Meeting 2019

This week, Pine Island Cranberry was glad to host the annual Cranberry Growers Twilight Meeting, run by Cesar Rodriguez-Saona of the Rutgers University Philip E. Marucci Center for Blueberry & Cranberry Research. In contrast to the American Cranberry Grower Association’s annual winter meeting, the focus here is less research-oriented and uses a more hands-on approach to addressing timely topics of importance to cranberry growers. Included on the agenda were such topics as troubleshooting cranberry disease problems and working with new cranberry varieties.

In addition to the importance of new research findings, it’s also a great chance for the cranberry community to get together face-to-face. Our team, and the other growers, work with Rutgers all the time, but it’s good to be able to sit down with other growers and find out if they’re having some of the same problems with pests, or fairy ring, or excessive heat. That additional perspective can help us troubleshoot our own applications.

“I thought the meeting overall went really well,” says Matt Giberson. “It was good seeing other growers; we haven’t really been able to get together since the winter meeting.” He got a lot out of the presentations this year, as well. “Peter’s research on the fairy ring was good; I liked the clarification on which briar causes the issue. Now we can target those and really go after them, both in and outside of the bog.” Even better, a lot of the treatment comes from our sustainability practices: “I think a lot of our prescribed burning here has helped kill the green briar, as well as mowing around the pump house and the gates.”

Matt also thought things looked bright for future research. “I enjoyed Jennifer’s talk as well; her research with the new rot resistance varieties sounded promising. We’re doing a test plot for her here and so are the Darlingtons, which will be useful for the industry as a whole.”

Meet Our Neighbors: The Sooy Family

The New Jersey cranberry industry is small, but it is mighty. Welcome to the next installment of our occasional series about some of our fellow New Jersey cranberry growers! This week, we spoke with our immediate neighbors to the south: Peggy Sooy and her sons Steven and Johnny.

1. How long has your family been in the business?

Stevie: Grandpop used to live at Stormy Hill behind where the Pine Island office is now. Otis gave him the lower track here and they moved over in ’45 or ’46. We’ve been working here ever since.

2. What’s your favorite aspect of cranberry farming?

Stevie: I just love the whole growing season. Taking the water off, putting the risers in, bringing in the bees…

Peggy: You’re a farmer and you enjoy what you’re doing!

Stevie: Exactly. Because at the end you’re looking out there at a sea of red, then that last truck heads for the receiving station and blows the horn. I just enjoy the whole thing from beginning to end.

Peggy: You dedicate so much of your life to this and you know, it’s part of you. It’s part of your thinking process. The paperwork will kill you, though.

3. What has been your biggest challenge?

Stevie: Getting the bugs under control!

Johnny: Weather.

Stevie: Yeah, that too. Cranberry growers are always calling each other: “What temperature are you getting? This guy’s at 32 already, that guy got hail, what are you looking at?” Everything else we can control, but you can’t control the weather or the insects!

Peggy: There are a lot of ifs. Weather. Surviving the season and meeting expenses. When we had blueberries the issue was getting the help but we have great neighbors!

4. What makes your operation unique?

Peggy: It’s not only a farm, it’s a friendship, it’s family, all of us. Anything we need. What’s so unique with us, unlike a lot of growers, we’re really small. So it’s great to take care of.

Stevie: It’s a big garden in a way. We can look out the window and say “no geese, no swans, we’re okay today!”

Peggy: We have the same strength as so many other growers: we’re family owned and you can depend on your family…which is the three of us at this point!

5. What’s a legendary story in your family?

Peggy: I think just how we started out and have managed to keep going, really. Art’s mother and father worked hard and managed to keep the place going. It’s a reward, being able to keep the farm up all these years. That’s our reward.

*Photos courtesy of Peggy, Steven, and Johnny Sooy.

Previously: The Lee Family