Harvest prep – 2020

September means harvest is getting closer every day, and our team is making sure everything gets done in plenty of time.

A few years ago, we began using bogside cleaners during the gathering process to help improve efficiency. Before that, during the harvest, berries were placed on a truck via an elevator. The truck then went to our packing house to unload and prep the berries for the receiving station by removing as much bog debris as possible. The bogside cleaner improved this process by removing the packing house step entirely and removing debris as the berries come out of the bog. This is better on fuel and easier on the team, as it requires fewer people in the water. As with any new equipment, there was a learning curve, but our team made modifications as they became necessary and took notes for subsequent harvests.

The experiment was successful and now we have four! “It was a long process,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann. “When we first started considering a berry pump, we went out to Wisconsin and looked at three or four makes of cleaners as well as looking at one owned by [our neighboring growers] the Lees. We ended up going with Paul’s Machine & Tool because they’d already done quite a bit to accommodate the user interface to make it more intuitive, and they were also very willing to customize it however we wanted.” The real test was during harvest itself, of course, and as expected, the team found that the machine would need some modifications based on practical use. (As Bryan says: “When we placed the order, we didn’t know what we didn’t know.”) One of the issues the team discovered was finding a lot of bog debris in the final product, as well as a diminished ability to remove the wastewater fast enough. “We wanted it to be as efficient as possible,” Bryan says, “so we made some minor changes during the season to remove vines and trash. But it became more labor intensive than it was worth.” So for subsequent orders, we asked Paul’s to make some design changes. The new berry pump added extra row of cleaning grates to the cleaning box and changed spacing on the box. At the same time, we sent the old cleaning box back and they sent us the 5 grate design in return. The combo of the new spray boom and an additional cleaning grate provides better quality fruit for the trailer to take directly to the Chatsworth receiving station.

The team is also looking at the fruit itself. In order to take advantage of the higher TAcy levels, they’re testing color to determine what beds we expect to pick first. Some varieties color earlier than others, and that is a factor we consider when planning our harvest strategy. Ocean Spray likes a consistent color, so we will take samples to the receiving station to check the TAcy number (an acronym for “total anthocyanin concentration” and is a unit of color measurement used in a cranberry) before harvesting. While the humidity gets worse in late summer, the nights tend to get cooler, and this actually improves the color.

Harvest time means being prepared for anything, and our team is well on its way.

Equipment upgrades

This month the Pine Island team has been doing some experimenting with a new GPS system for use with our existing equipment, and it looks like it’s going to be very useful for a variety of tasks.

“We researched the auto steer five years ago in Wisconsin and everything we found was good,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann. “It’s going to let us flood to a higher level for knocking fruit – water needed to be lower so operator could see the fruit – so this means less time to add water to gather. It also reduces overlap, which means less damage to the vines. We’ve been making many changes to our harvest procedures over the last five years; it was a matter of prioritization. I believe next year we will equip our other two harvest tractors with them so all will operate that way.”

“The harvest part of it is going to be great; we can take the info that it generates and use it to pick over the same spot every year. It uses the real time corrections so it’s pretty accurate,” says Jeremy Fenstermaker. With harvest still a couple of months away, however, the team has been testing the auto steer on other tasks.

“I used it to make straight lines out there while installing irrigation,” Jeremy says. “Normally we put out stakes and try to drive a straight line but with this, if you mark the beginning and end of the line the system will mark it straight so things will be more evenly spaced. Just set it up with auto steer, tell it where you want to go, and it’ll drive you there. The potential here is just tremendous: drainage, irrigation pipe, harvest time . . . anywhere you have to drive the same line year after year.”

“We talked about it for a long time before taking the plunge,” Jeremy says, “and now the more we use it, the more potential we’re realizing.”

Tropical storms

Just a couple of weeks ago our team was running sprinklers to make sure the beds were getting water, but this week changed all of that with the arrival of Tropical Storm Fay.

While our team works rain or shine, wet weather can make some tasks more difficult, especially bog renovation, and team members will sometimes move on to something else until things dry out. In the past, we’ve had to switch things around a little because we don’t want to wreck the dams or the bogs we’re renovating. For example, the Hydremas will keep running but but haul less per load, and if needed, the bog renovation team will take the opportunity to move equipment to get ready for the next stage.

“We’re getting it pretty good right now from this storm,” says manager Matt Giberson. “We saw it coming a few days ago, so Louis and his team had all the Crisafullis looked over and the lift pumps checked. We started lowering canals and reservoirs Wednesday to make room for all the rain. So far everything looks good! The great thing about this is it’s raining during the day, not at two in the morning, so we get a better visual of what we are looking at and what we need to make it easier.”

Too much rain can have a negative effect on pollination as well as fertilizer application, so we have to be ready. Farming is all about doing what you have to do when you when it’s time to do it, and our team makes sure to plan for every possible outcome.

Planning

The Chatsworth area experienced another overnight power outage this week as thunderstorms rolled through the region. If the outage had continued for several days, however, Pine Island Cranberry would have been prepared, thanks to the planning demonstrated in this blog post originally published on June 26, 2015.

The storms that blew through southern New Jersey this week left a lot of the area without electric, and Pine Island was no exception. But our Facilities/Equipment team came through for everyone!

Facilities/Equipment Manager Louis Cantafio says, “When the power went out Tuesday night, we figured it’d be back up sooner rather than later, so we spent Wednesday working on things we could do without electric. By the end of the day, though, we realized we were in it for the long haul; estimates were for power being restored as late as Saturday. So Bill [Haines] called me on his way home and said, we need to put together a plan and make sure everyone has water.” Bill told Louis to assume he’d have whatever resources he needed and to let him know if there were any roadblocks, and the team was off and running.

“The biggest challenge was getting enough generators,” Louis says. “I hit five places and found ten generators. I’d back up, unload, and the guys started unpacking, putting in oil and fuel, staging them at the locations we’d identified along with additional fuel cans, and Mike [Guest] and Emmanuel [Colon] would follow shortly afterward to make sure the wells got powered. It was amazing.” Facilities Supervisor Mike Guest agrees: “This was definitely a team effort, no question. Louis did a great job finding everything we needed, then the shop got them up and running…it couldn’t have been done and done that fast without excellent communication.”

“We did good!” says Equipment Supervisor Carlos Baez. “The generators would arrive, Fred [Henschel] and I started building them, and then Ernie and I started to deliver them while Fred and Coco [Mercado] started filling 5 gallon cans and set them up with every generator. You can do without a lot and keep going, but you can’t do it without water.” Fred adds, “It was a production! But now we’re going to disassemble everything, label it, and then store it in a secured area and add them to the maintenance plan, so we’re ready if it ever happens again.”

For his part, CEO Bill Haines is impressed. “Everyone did a hell of a job,” he says.

Last but not least, of course, some of our intrepid office staff made the rounds Thursday in a Gator, bringing water to everyone who was out working so hard!

So a huge thank you to our Facilities and Equipment team members Louis Cantafio, Mike Guest, Emmanuel Colon, Carlos Baez, Ernie Waskiewicz, Coco Mercado, and Fred Henschel; to our office team members Debra Signorelli and Stacey DeLaurentis, for keeping our hard-working team hydrated; to Matt Giberson and PIICM Manager Cristina Tassone, for keeping the planes moving; and to our neighbors at Lee Brothers, for allowing us to use their wells to fill our own tanks. Our team is second to none in the industry, and that is in no small part due to their willingness to do whatever it takes for both our land and our people.

Winter work

In addition to sanding, our team is working on some of our other usual winter tasks. Running three sanding crews means that a lot of team members are busy, but there are still other things to do!

Harvest time can be tough on our dams, as well as wet weather, so our team has been doing some maintenance work on them this week. Some dams are really only used during harvest, and if they get any ruts in a heavy rain, it’s usually fine. But the ones everyone uses most can deteriorate quickly, pushing out both water and sand; proper maintenance now is much more efficient than trying to fix the problem later. In some instances, all we really need is to pass over it with the scraper.

Our bog renovation, of course, is always ongoing, and when it’s wet outside, some team members will be indoors assembling sprinklers for the new renovation as well as repairing old sprinklers: replacing worn out nozzles, springs, and sprinkler heads.

Well-maintained, consistently available equipment and facilities that are fully operational are instrumental to Pine Island’s daily efficiency and the success of our operation. The facilities/equipment team usually has several projects going at once, assisting the sanding operation, the bog renovation team, and working on building upkeep, as well as doing all the necessary equipment maintenance in order to be prepared for the growing season and beyond.

Harvest’s end – 2019

Our team picked the final bog for 2019 yesterday, bringing this year’s harvest to a close.

It was a tough season, weather-wise, which meant we had to slow down a lot while waiting for color.

While for the most part, we relied on our bog side cleaners, we did return to the old packing house platform to maximize what fruit we could from the younger beds! We also did some experimenting to improve our equipment: “We experimented with grate spacing on the bog side cleaners to eliminate rot and trash, as well as the brush cleaner at the packing house,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann.

We made some changes to our process as well! “We also took an assembly line approach for gathering; now that we have four cleaners we were able to send a team to get the bog ready to go ahead of time, which made the cleaning go more quickly,” Bryan says. “We were able to cover a lot of acres that way.”

Bryan is already getting ready for 2020 by working on some new training procedures ahead of next year’s harvest. And in the meantime, the rest of our team is getting ready for the next big task: the winter flood!

Picking methods

In the time since we launched this site, our team has improved many of our processes in the interests of efficiency. The most visible changes, of course, have been to our harvest methods.

Since the 60s, when Bill Haines, Sr. moved entirely to water harvesting, we’ve been using the reel harvesters. Since 2014, however, as our team continues to renovate older beds to improve drainage and yield, we’ve been relying more and more on the Gates Harrow. The Gates Harrow is not as hard on the plants as the reel harvesters, and our renovation program is geared for increased efficiency by being user-friendly for equipment like this. But there are still older beds in the center of the farm that are easier to pick using the former method.

When it comes to picking with the reels, there’s a lot to think about; it’s not as easy as just putting the machines in the water. There’s a method to it in order to keep from damaging the fruit or the vines. The difficulty fluctuates slightly due to bog size, weeds, and terrain, as well as other variables such as water levels, crop size, and even berry variety. Some berries do not float to the surface as easily and remain under the vine canopy, which is why they stagger machines in the water in order to both maximize yield and minimize damage to the vines. Each bog is picked in a specific pattern according to terrain, and the picking crew has to carefully move their harvesters around stakes which have been arranged for maximum operational efficiency. Following this pattern allows for minimal damage to the vines. The crew leader also needs to stay ahead of his crew and check for ditches, for everyone’s safety.

The Gates Harrow is a simple machine set up to cover more ground. At the front is a rod which holds vines down to the ground; as the tractor moves forward, the berries pop off the stems and roll up over the tines on the rake. It’s not as hard on the plants as our usual method, and our renovation program is geared for increased efficiency by being user-friendly for equipment like this. It also picks a lot cleaner; it knocks almost everything off the vines. With the standard reels you’ll still find some berries left here and there. There are also some fuel savings with just one tractor running. It’s also less labor intensive; we typically run a six man picking crew and their target is about 12.5 acres per day. On a more level set of bogs, they can do more than that, but with a Gates Harrow a two-man crew can get through 40 acres. It’s a lot more efficient.

GoPro Gates Harrow from Pine Island Cranberry on Vimeo.

With the majority of our older bogs finished, we’re looking to make a strong finish with the harrows in the next week or so!

Harvest equipment prep

Harvest is starting soon, and we are always looking for ways to improve the process!

A few years ago, we began using bogside cleaners during the gathering process to help improve efficiency. Before that, during the harvest, berries were placed on a truck via an elevator. The truck then went to our packing house to unload and prep the berries for the receiving station by removing as much bog debris as possible. The bogside cleaner improved this process by removing the packing house step entirely and removing debris as the berries come out of the bog. This is better on fuel and easier on the team, as it requires fewer people in the water. As with any new equipment, there was a learning curve, but our team made modifications as they became necessary and took notes for subsequent harvests.

The experiment was successful and now we have four! “It was a long process,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann. “When we first started considering a berry pump, we went out to Wisconsin and looked at three or four makes of cleaners as well as looking at one owned by [our neighboring growers] the Lees. We ended up going with Paul’s Machine & Tool because they’d already done quite a bit to accommodate the user interface to make it more intuitive, and they were also very willing to customize it however we wanted. In practice, this meant changing the 6 inch pump to an 8 inch one, as well as asking them to build it a little higher to make it easier for our trailers; a few small changes, and some significant ones. But they provided us with great service, and came out themselves to help set everything up.”

The real test was during harvest itself, of course, and as expected, the team found that the machine would need some modifications based on practical use. (As Bryan says: “When we placed the order, we didn’t know what we didn’t know.”) One of the issues the team discovered was finding a lot of bog debris in the final product, as well as a diminished ability to remove the wastewater fast enough. “We wanted it to be as efficient as possible,” Bryan says, “so we made some minor changes during the season to remove vines and trash. But it became more labor intensive than it was worth.” So for subsequent orders, we asked Paul’s to make some design changes. The new berry pump added extra row of cleaning grates to the cleaning box and changed spacing on the box. At the same time, we sent the old cleaning box back and they sent us the new 5 grate design in return. The combo of the new spray boom and an additional cleaning grate provides better quality fruit for the trailer to take directly to the Chatsworth receiving station.

Testing the new machine on a young bog was useful for a couple of reasons. Young beds have yet to develop a dense canopy, and while they often yield fruit, a high percentage of that fruit contains rot. This makes them a good place to test run new equipment immediately pre-harvest. “We may well need to use the packing house platform for beds with high amounts of rot,” says Matt Giberson, “but we’re obviously hoping those will be few and far between!”

Harvest prep – 2019

Harvest is only about a month away, and our team is making sure we’re more than ready!

We’re getting everything sharpened up on the farm right now; the team is working on both the chores that we need to get done and those that we like to get done. It’s always nice to have the farm tidy and ready beforehand.

The ditches surrounding every bog must be kept free of debris in order to ensure adequate water flow for both flooding and drainage. Cleaning the ditches is important for two reasons. First, it helps maintain the proper moisture level in the soil. Second, and most importantly, removing water from the bogs quickly is urgent in case of a big rain event.

It is important to make sure all of the equipment has been properly maintained well in advance of the harvest: the boom, boom reels, harvesters, et cetera. The boom is taken out and checked for any repairs that need to be made, and so is the reel. The harvesters are brought in and serviced at our shop. We also look over and repair as needed the blowers, trucks, and tractors for each harvesting crew and ensure we have all the tools and safety supplies necessary to get us through harvest.

“We’ve done everything we can at this point and hoping for the best,” says CEO Bill Haines. “Talk to me again in November and I’ll let you know how we made out!”

Sanding changes

Our first core value at Pine Island Cranberry is “get better”: doing everything we do better every day. Part of that is not doing things the way we’ve always done just because that’s the way we’ve always done them.

Our annual sanding project is moving right along, and while the process remains approximately the same, we’re always adjusting the details with an eye to future production.

“We’re actually continuing the process that we did last year,” says manager Mike Haines. “For the past several years we’d moved from sanding one inch to a half-inch, then went back a couple of years ago to to doing an inch on established beds while continuing to do a half-inch on new beds. It can be kind of hard to tell at the end of the first year if there’s a difference, so we keep an eye on it and see if there are any changes in production as well as how healthy the bogs look, and we experimented with a couple of beds at Centennial again in order to make a comparison.”

There are other factors at play as well, Mike says: “When you make sanding changes you need to make changes elsewhere, too, especially with fertilizer. It’ll be interesting to see how this looks once the new beds get to full production. But in the meantime we’re going to keep making decisions based on results rather than following the rule of thumb just for the sake of it.”

We’ve also made some equipment changes! We have new sanders that are slightly bigger and cover more ground more quickly. When the weather is cooperative, we can run three sanding teams and get a lot done. It might take a couple of years to see results, and the best proof will be in the production!