Penn State Forest Fire

You may have heard that there was a bit of trouble in Penn State Forest last weekend. From the Asbury Park Press:

Firefighters with the state forest fire service worked tirelessly over the weekend to contain the 11,600-acre wildfire that’s been burning in the Pine Barrens since Saturday afternoon.

The raging fire spared homes and structures, but left 18 square miles of the Penn State Forest in Burlington County with less than 30 percent of its vegetation, according to Michael Achey, a warden with the New Jersey State Forest Fire Service.

The local community, of course, turned out in force, as they always do. Pine Island’s own facilities manager Louis Cantafio was on the scene for at least sixteen hours straight. “It was big. It really wanted to get across Route 72,” he says. “One of the best things, though, is you get there and there’s a whole bunch of cranberry growers: you’ve got your Sammy Moores, your Ben Bricks, your Tom Gerbers. A good portion of it was on the farm. The blueberry field on 72, the clear-cut on Red Road. . . we saved everything, which is what the forest fire service does. 15 miles of perimeter, interior, counter-firing. We were out there 16 hours; couldn’t leave until it was all fired in. Bill DeGroff and Tom Gerber were on the backfire side of the wildfire, and that all had to be finished. It really was a lot of work.”

“One of the most positive things about this weekend for me was watching the crew cohesion,” says Shawn Judy, Assistant Division Firewarden. “These men and women quickly responded to the scene, developed a plan, organized resources, contained the fire, and protected lives and valuable property without any injuries. There were many moving parts from multiple agencies involved with this incident. All of the pre-planning and relationships developed over the years by the Forest Fire Service paid off big time!”

“I can’t say enough good things about the forest fire service; they always do a good job,” says Pine Island CEO Bill Haines. “They work with us throughout the year, keeping us informed; in the past, they’ve helped us with controlled burns. This weekend, they did a great job protecting our forestry project and our blueberry fields. It’s really nice to have people who know what they’re doing providing that kind of service.”

Pine Island Cranberry would like to thank Shawn Judy, Gregory McLaughlin, Rusty Fenton, Jeremy Webber, Robby Gill, Gary Burton, Howard Somes, John Winberg, Salvatore Cicco, David Dorworth, Michel Achey, John Reith, Cindy Vallorio, Clifford Parker, Brian Christopher, Tom Gerber, Ben Brick, Trevor Raynor, Donald Knauer, John Earlin, Brian Corvinus, Dale Carrey, William Jubert, Bill Hamilton, Robert Stack, John Earlin Jr., Tyler Robinson, Walter Jones, Eugene Zazenski, William DeGroff, Chad Bozowski, Charles Poinsett, Roger Poinsett, Gary Poinsett, Alfred Sloan, Nate Pepper, Michael Haines, Doug Cutts, Eddy Carter, Marie Cook, BJ Sloan, Kenny Sloan, Sammy Moore III, Louis Cantafio, Dave Potowski, Brian Jones, Mike Gallagher, Rodney Haines, Chris Mathis, Walter Johnson, John Headly, Daniel Collamer, Craig Augustoni, Walt Earlin, David Achey, William Donnelly (and many more!) for all of their hard work protecting our community.

Meet Our Neighbors: The Lee Family

Last week, we celebrated seven years of bringing you our story online. This week, we thought it was time to hear directly from some of our friends in the industry. Welcome to our inaugural post in what will be an occasional series about some of our fellow New Jersey cranberry growers!

For this first post, we spoke with our longtime friends and neighbors to the north, the Lee family! Steve Lee IV, the sixth generation of the Lee family to take an active interest in his family farm, was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions for us.

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

The Lee Family has been farming in Speedwell since 1868. Lee Brothers, Inc. which is part of the Ocean Spray Grower-Owned Cooperative has been in continuous operation since 1949. Integrity Propagation, the cranberry industry’s first foundation-level nursery has been in operation since 2008. Currently the 5th, 6th and the 7th generations of the Lee Family are living and working on the cranberry production or greenhouse operation which encompasses Washington, Woodland and Tabernacle Townships.

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

The harvest season is by far the most special time of year for our family. When the crop is good, the harvest season can be very rewarding. When crops are not as strong as expected, harvest is more of a time to reflect on the decisions made during the past growing season and begin to create the playbook for the upcoming growing season. Either way, harvest is special because we celebrate our heritage and share it with visitors that want to experience the season and be “part of the crew”.

3. What has been your biggest challenge?

Challenges? What challenges? Keeping governmental regulations under control is by far the biggest issue. Collectively, our industry works on developing and nurturing our relationships with lawmakers to help with ever-increasing regulatory, manufacturing and horticultural challenges. Managing these relationships can sometimes be very time consuming.

4. What makes your operation unique?

For the most part, we all get along. Not all farm-families do, which could sometimes certainly be a problem. Historically, we have an outside-the-box approach to innovations that are geared towards improving overall operational efficiency and agricultural production. Many of the innovations developed here have become standard throughout the industry including but not limited to the ride-on harvester and fertilizer/spray buggy. Several members of our family have served and continue to serve in leadership positions in a variety of areas including government, associations, civic, religious, banking, and agricultural. We are also so fortunate to have enjoyed multiple generations of our family working together, and employees that have become part of our extended family. We are also very unique in having such a great relationship with our neighbors, the Haines Family.

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

As with any farm family, we have many family stories. Some of the stories involving each of the generations of the Lee and Haines families are legendary, but probably not suitable for print. We are very fortunate to be part of a cooperative that truly is a multi-generational extended family. That was most evident on Labor Day 2012, when we were hit with about 13” of rain in roughly a 6 hour period. Although it rained throughout South Jersey, the hardest hit area was right here in Chatsworth, Speedwell, Hog Wallow and Pineworth. Once word began to get our on how much rain we had, support came in the way of equipment, manpower, food and phone calls to “check on us” and offer “anything we needed”. Certainly, the outpouring of concerns and support we received was not concentrated to that day or even that instance, but it clearly demonstrates the love, passion, support, and cooperation of the cranberry industry here in New Jersey.

The Lees are fantastic neighbors and even better friends, and we’re glad to have such good people in our community!

*Photo courtesy Steve Lee IV.

Ocean Spray Receiving Station – Chatsworth’s 30th Anniversary

This year, the Ocean Spray receiving station in Chatsworth celebrates its 30th anniversary, and several growers were on hand to celebrate with the hardworking station crew.

“We wanted to have a celebration of our 30th anniversary just before we start harvest number 31,” says manager Bob Garatino. Bob and his crew work all year to make sure that the approximately 49 days of cranberry harvest run as smoothly as possible, from start to finish, and they’ve been making a lot of improvements in the “off” season. “Two months out of the year, our goal is cleaning and sizing cranberries. The rest of the year, we make sure our bins are cleaned and prepared for the next season. And we also take a few actions. As you enter the property and look around, there’s a lot of new signage related to safety. Safety is paramount; nothing we do is so important and no service we provide is so urgent that we cannot perform our job safely. Quality is king; we do our best to judge fruit fairly and consistently, because we know that’s our job. We’re committed to keeping costs as low as we can; where we can do it ourselves we will. We also look started asking ourselves “what if”: if something comes up, how will we handle it?”

Bob also took the opportunity to thank the growers for their support. “[The growers] have been here to plow out three feet of snow, to give us valuable feedback and advice, sending us blueberries, educating us on the latest research, bringing us holiday cookies, or just working with us to work out bumps and bruises of the annual harvest.” He is also very proud of his Chatsworth team. “They take pride in their work every day.”

Communication with the growers and timing delivery truly is the key, says supervisor Alonza Williams. “Production varies; if everyone gathers at the same time it’s going to crank things up, but if one grower is harvesting a lower yield variety than what another grower might be doing it balances out.” The receiving station has 12 people on staff during the slower months, but by the time they’re in full swing that number grows to 29, and that’s when communication truly becomes essential: “We’ll stay in touch with growers for their start and end times and even Sundays, by request.” In addition to prepping the bins, Alonza’s getting the lab ready so growers can ring samples in to test for TAcy and firmness.

“The Chatsworth receiving station has always been a big benefit to the growers in New Jersey,” says Pine Island CEO Bill Haines. “It’s always been a pleasure to work with the crew there. Bob, Alonza, Mike, and the rest of the team have always been more than helpful, and we’re glad they’re part of the Ocean Spray team.”

Community service

Last week during the annual Pine Barrens Festival in Tabernacle, one of Pine Island’s team members received a special award from his home community. Per the Pine Barrens Tribune:

During each night of the festival, a different town from the Burlington County communities of the Pine Barrens is spotlighted as part of a “Focus On Our Town” event. . .

“We firmly believe that the quality of life in each town is highlighted by the quality and quantity of volunteer service that is gifted to the town by its people,” [Holy Eucharist spokesperson Mary] Fischl said. “We wish to show our appreciation and congratulate these folks.”

This year, the recipient for Woodland Township’s annual award was our very own Facilities/Equipment manager Louis Cantafio!

Louis has been a hard-working team member since he started here six years ago, always willing to do whatever it takes and work as many hours as he needs to to make sure everything is done, especially in an emergency.

“Louis is just a really good guy,” says Woodland Township mayor Bill DeGroff. “He volunteers a lot of his free time and expertise for zero compensation. The minute he hears someone needs something, his first response is usually ‘What can I do to help?’ He’s on the land use board, he volunteers with the forest fire service, and he’s been spending a lot of time pitching in with the fire house remodel, even though he’s not a company member. It was a pretty easy decision to offer his name for the award.”

“We’re really impressed with the work that Louis does in the community,” says Pine Island CEO Bill Haines. “It’s obvious that he brings the same kind of dedication and energy to his community that he brings to his work at Pine Island, and we’re really proud of him.”

BCMAC visit

Just this morning, Pine Island Cranberry had the pleasure of hosting a tour with the Burlington County Military Affairs Committee! BCMAC acts as a liaison between the Joint Base military commanders and the civilian community “to promote a mutual understanding of one another’s mission and to assist and support the military wherever possible”. Stan Fayer and MaryAnn Rivell brought us a fantastic group from the Joint Base, and we kept them quite busy!

Once everyone arrived, CEO Bill Haines gave everyone a brief overview of the farm and family histories, complete with a photo gallery put together by Bill’s wife Nadine.

After that, it was off to see the real star of the show: New Jersey’s red October!

The group learned about picking with the Gates Harrow and how it gets in and out of the bog, and then they were able to get a bird’s eye view of the gathering process from the top of the bog side cleaner.

Next, they were able to go into a bed that hasn’t been picked yet, learned a bit about different cranberry varieties, and got to try out an old-fashioned dry scoop.

The final stop was at one of our recently planted bog to hear about how our young beds are renovated.

We had high standards to live up to: Pine Island was pinch hitting for our next door neighbors Lee Brothers, who do a phenomenal job with this tour! It turned out to be a great day; the weather was wonderful, and everyone had a good time, especially Bill:

“The BMAC out was one of the most enjoyable tours we’ve ever done. It’s really nice to have a group of people who are genuinely interested in what we’re doing, and it was a pleasure to talk to them about our history, the current harvest, and where we plan to go in the future. They were interested, asked a lot of good questions, and it was great to have them.”

Thanks to Stan, MaryAnn, and everyone who came out to see the prettiest sight in New Jersey this morning!

ACGA Summer Field Day 2017

Last 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.

Dr. Cesar Rodriguez-Saona once again put together an excellent and informative program, starting with the very first summer field talk for weed specialist Thierry Besançon. In addition to a “show and tell” session with Stephen Lee, we also bid a fond farewell to Ray Samulis, our Burlco Agricultural Agent, whose talk on farm safety has long been a mainstay of our meetings! We’ll miss you, Ray, and we promise: we’ll keep our initials off your list.

The most important part, however, is always the chance to sit down and catch up with fellow cranberry growers. “During the busy growing season, you seldom have the chance to talk to them about what they’re doing: how they see the crop, what new things they’re trying. It’s a great chance for growers to exchange ideas,” says Pine Island CEO Bill Haines. And our friends and neighbors feel much the same way!

ACGA President Shawn Cutts:

The meeting this year was excellent. All of the speakers provided valuable information and insight. It was great to hear updates on all the important ongoing research at the Marucci Center. The presentation on Root Growth in Cranberries by Dr. Amaya Atucha was a highlight that presented new and interesting information to NJ growers on how and when cranberry roots grow.

Joe Darlington, J.J. White:

I thought this meeting was a very good one; the weather even cooperated pretty well. All of the researchers presented interesting and useful info. This was the first time I heard Nick [Vorsa, Director at the Marucci Blueberry and Cranberry Research and Extension Center] say 1,000 barrels per acre in a public setting. Now we just need to put that together with real rot resistance. It is good to see that Thierry is on the ground and running with his research.

Bill Cutts, Cutts Brothers:

I thought the weather was great and the talks all had some nuggets of interest and progress in solving some of our problems; I found the talk about roots by the researcher from Wisconsin particularly interesting. I also encourage everyone to bring a chair or stool next year. It was great to sit comfortably while listening to the talks!

Jeff LaFleur, Mayflower Cranberries:

It is always great to visit with so many friends and colleagues at the ACGA meeting. It is especially valuable for me as a relatively new grower to see the latest in varietal development and pest management. With the increased emphasis on fruit quality I always learn something new from Peter Oudemans that I can use on my farm back in Massachusetts.

Finally, all of us at the ACGA as well as Pine Island Cranberry wish a speedy recovery to Tommy Budd! We missed you on Friday, sir, and look forward to seeing you again soon.

Vendors: Allen’s Oil

Our team is still working on sanding and all of the other usual winter tasks, so this week, we’re bringing you a quick look at one of our favorite vendors: Allen’s Oil!

Allen’s Oil keeps our irrigation systems running!

Allen’s, a fourth-generation family business in Vincentown, has been Pine Island’s diesel vendor since 2013. From their website:

In the 1940s, Harry T. Allen, Sr. and his son Harry T., Jr. started to deliver home heating oil along with coal. In 1964, the business was passed along to Harry, Jr. In 1977, Harry’s sons, Ronald L. Allen and Roger P. Allen, purchased the company where Ronald served as the third generation company president while his brother, Roger, was vice president.

With Ronald’s dedication, the business continued to grow. In 1991, Ronald decided to add a full-service propane division, at which time the name went from Allen’s Oil to Allen’s Oil and Propane, Inc. As the propane division grew, it was time to expand. In 1994, the Hammonton, NJ office and storage facility was opened with the ability to store 205,000 gallons of propane. Since that time, Allen’s has opened two more storage facilities: one in Elmer, NJ (2005) which has 108,000 gallons of propane storage and another in Southampton, NJ (2008) which has 120,000 gallons of storage.

In June 2001, Ronald purchased Roger’s share of the company. Keeping with the family tradition, Ronald now runs the company with his wife, Sandra, and their two sons Douglas and Jason. As of today, Allen’s Oil & Propane Inc. has a customer base of over 10,000 customers and continues to grow every day.

“I came in to meet with Bill,” says owner Ron Allen, “and he was completely straight with me. I asked him what he was paying, told him what I could offer, and he said, it’s a deal.” It’s a tough business to be in these days, Ron says, but “it takes people from both sides to make it work, and Pine Island is always there to support us.”

And we’re glad to support them, according to CEO Bill Haines: “Allen’s Oil is the kind of vendor we like,” he says. “They’re totally dependable and totally reliable. Which means that we not only don’t have to worry about whether they’re going to be here and do what they say, we don’t even have to think about it; we can just count on it.”

Vendors: Legacy Advisors

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.”

ACGA Summer Field Day – 2015

Yesterday several Pine Island Cranberry team members once again 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.

All in attendance found the demonstrations highly useful! Some took particular notice of Dr. Peter Oudemans’ talk on his work on the heat stress factor in disease management. “Peter’s talk on understanding the factors that lead to heat damage was a hot topic for us…no pun intended,” says PIICM manager Cristina Tassone. “This year we have been trying to monitor the weather with our thermometer–both automated and analog–our new weather stations, our new thermal camera, and we started testing internal heat this season with meat thermometers. We have been going back and forth with Peter trying to find the best threshold for when we should turn on the sprinklers, and his talk yesterday provided the analysis of the data he collected along with a threshold that will help us make better decisions.” GM Fred Torres agrees: “You never have all the answers; there are always what-ifs, but we’re feeling better about what to do and what to try. Peter’s work is really narrowing it down, and it’s getting better and easier.”

The other speakers were also quite well-received. “It’s always good to hear about the new varieties, what they’re coming up with,” Fred says. Cristina was very interested in Dr. Jim Polashock’s talk on virus symptoms and detection. “It helped me make a connection with what we are seeing in the bogs,” she says. “We have seen scarring on the fruit in the past, and weren’t always sure what to attribute it to. Seeing the fruit samples with the viruses yesterday will help us identify what we are seeing in the bogs better. I am also anxious to see what they find out about the ‘footprint’ disease in the near future.”

Yesterday the ACGA also distributed the “Identification Guide for Weeds in Cranberries”. Hilary Sandler, weed specialist at UMass, had Quebec’s cranberry weed identification guide translated to English for growers on the east coast. This weed guide is of very high quality: 200+ pages with color photos of each weed’s stages of growth, in addition to a lot of information on the weeds. In addition to translating this guide, Hilary added new weeds and information to be sure that it covers all the weeds present in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and the other east coast Canadian growing areas. “I was very excited to receive this,” Cristina says. “I know it will be very helpful when we create our 2016 Weed Control Plan.”

As always, Dr. Cesar Rodriguez-Saona and his team did a spectacular job planning the program; it was well-organized, informative, and somehow or other, he found a way to control the weather! Many thanks to Cesar, Peter, Jim, and all of the fantastic scientists at the Marucci Center, whose work with all of us makes the NJ cranberry industry increasingly better, year after year.

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