ACGA Winter Meeting 2015

The American Cranberry Growers Association (ACGA) held their annual winter meeting this week, and as always, it was highly educational, with Dr. Nick Vorsa putting together a fantastic program. COO Bryan vonHahmann, attending his second winter meeting, sums it up well: “We’re very fortunate to have a quality group of researchers so close to us, as well as relationships with others in other cranberry areas. Nothing in this business is a constant, so it’s a valuable chance to interact and understand the research that is going on to help us grow more healthy fruit. The mix of presentations was good, especially for someone like me that is in ‘learning mode’.”

In addition to Bryan, Pine Island Cranberry sent a large group and all were just as pleased with the presentations, especially the ones from the graduate students. “It’s really great to see the details the grad students are working on,” says PIICM Manager Cristina Tassone. “And we get the chance to ask them questions, so they get immediate feedback as well.” Assistant Manager Mike Haines agrees: “The greater detail from the graduate presentations were great; they give us aspects I never would have considered otherwise.” It was also a great chance to listen to researchers from other cranberry regions; this year, we had the opportunity to hear from Hilary Sandler, the IPM coordinator at the UMass Cranberry Station, who brought us additional info on weed identification and control.

Both Pine Island team members and other ACGA growers appreciate the chance to get together with others in the industry. Mike says: “It’s great to get a broader perspective in a small industry, especially when we work in an isolated area.” And as fellow grower Joe Darlington likes to point out, “The real business happens during the breaks.”

The real highlight, however, was celebrating the career of Brad Majek, who gave us one final presentation on weed control developments before his retirement. Brad’s appearances were always a highlight at both the winter and summer meetings, and everyone is going to miss him. “He is very passionate about what he does,” says Cristina. “He’s done so much for the industry over the past twenty-plus years. He was always available to help, either in person or on the phone, and he is definitely going to be missed.” CEO Bill Haines agrees: “Brad always has a lot of energy. He was our go-to guy for weed questions and was able to give us a lot of long-distance advice about Chile. He’s a guy who’s all about getting stuff done.”

But perhaps the best tribute came from ACGA President Shawn Cutts, who presented Brad with a plaque which read:

“In appreciation of your many years of outstanding service to New Jersey’s cranberry growers. Your expertise, advice, and friendship have made invaluable contributions to our industry.

‘What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have yet to be discovered.’
Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1878

Thanks for helping us kill them anyway…”

Thanks, Brad, for everything you’ve done for all of us!

MFS: Pine Barrens Intensive Learning

This week, Pine Island Cranberry was very pleased to host a group of students from Moorestown Friends on their week-long Pine Barrens Intensive Learning experience. Per the MFS website, this particular IL unit provides student with the chance “to learn the unique history and culture of the nearby ‘Pinelands,’ the first National Reserve created by Congress. The area has also been designated by the United Nations as an International Biosphere Reserve. We will spend time hiking and exploring the forest as well as learning about the intriguing history of the area, including the Jersey Devil and the indigenous ‘Piney’ population.”

The morning started with a presentation by CEO Bill Haines on the history of the farm and some of the changes that have been made throughout the years. He spoke of the generations who came before and how each successive generation has since made its own mark. He explained why cranberries and blueberries are so essential to the Pine Barrens: because the growers understand the need for an abundant supply of clean water. “The key thing to know about this farm and this industry is the water supply,” he says. “Where does it come from, and where do we want it to go? And we’re fortunate that we have the opportunity to be here and to do that, because we understand that we need to protect all the resources here if we want to remain in business.”

Bill then introduced PIICM manager Cristina Tassone, who started out with us as an intern seven years ago and now this year is making all the major crop decisions. Cristina’s presentation mentioned how her position is analogous to that of a parent: her job is essentially to be the caregiver of the crop. She also included the basic life cycle of a cranberry bog, starting with an explanation of sanding and why it works.

“Once the water comes off, we have an eight-member ICM team that’s in those bogs every day,” Cristina says. “All season long we’re walking in the bogs, checking to see what they need. We currently grow nine different varieties that require different management strategies due to growth stage, color of leaves, disease, and pest issues.”

The group was surprised by some of the water management aspects, particularly the layout and how the bogs were interconnected via gates. They also asked some great questions about sustainability and the effect of cranberry farming on the water supply. And a lot of them enjoyed the next part of the presentation, which involved taking them out to a bog that has recently been drained in order to install sprinklers.

For their part, the students were able to tie in what they learned from us–the importance of clean water and sandy acidic soil–with other visits around the Pines this week, and got confirmation on the low impact of cranberry harvesting on the Pine Barrens ecosystem from their next stop at Pakim Pond.

“It was great to have them out here,” says Cristina. “I absolutely love talking about what we do; it really is a unique opportunity to do this work on this scale. It’s fantastic for us, to be a local business with such deep roots available to educate as well as give students the chance to have a better understanding of what it takes to grow cranberries, not just assume we walk around in waders all day like the commercials. And it’s important to share the opportunities we have to offer as a future career possibility.”