Processing

The second full week of harvest is going well! Last week, manager Matt Giberson talked about how we’re testing samples before a truck goes to Ocean Spray. “If the numbers aren’t great,” he said, “we’re taking it to our own packing house and clearing it out before we send it up the road.” Here’s how that works.

Each bog is run through separately. First, the forklift crew unloads the full cranberry boxes from the trucks coming out of the field. Once the cranberries are poured into the hoppers, they pass along the belt through the blowers, which are used to partially dry the fruit and remove as many of the leaves as possible. Once the leaves are blown out, the fruit drops onto another belt and from there move up the truck elevator into the waiting trailer.

Things are a little different if our team is going straight from the bog to Chatsworth, though!

The trucks are wired to a set of lights so the gathering team leader can communicate effectively from the bog side cleaner’s platform. When one section of the trailer is full, the team leader hits a button and the yellow light in the truck cab indicates that it’s time to move forward! If the driver moves up a little too far, the team leader will use the red light indicator to tell the driver to back up.)

Once the truck is full (whether it’s cleaned with the bogside cleaner or at our own packing house), it’s time to head down the road!

Once the driver gets to the receiving station, he drives to the scales, where he turns in the paperwork and Ocean Spray takes some initial samples.

He is assigned a pool number, then drives around back and backs up to the assigned pool.

The crew at the station then start running the equipment needed to clear the berries from the trailer and take additional samples as needed.

When the truck is empty, it’s back around to the scales to be weighed again, and off again home to pick up another load!

Cleaning line!

This entry was originally posted on September 8, 2017, with a follow-up on October 6, 2017.

Last week we talked about how our team was prepping for harvest, including some equipment modifications. This week, we take a look at the changes to our cleaning facility! Up until now, our cleaning line at the packing house removes trash, debris, leaves, and so forth; however, it does not remove rotten fruit. But our Facilities team is hard at work on upgrades.

“With the standards changing in fruit quality, Ocean Spray is starting to dock growers for any rot amount greater than 20%, and we get charged the cleaning fee,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann. “If the rot percentage goes over 40%, they won’t even take it. We already know that that in the early years in our young beds, it’s easy to get a lot of rot because the canopy isn’t well developed. But we still get some good fruit from them. So what we decided to do was get an analysis on the good fruit from those young beds and see what they were worth. Once we did the math, we found it was a relatively short payback for us to put in brush washers to push the rotten fruit out. The blowers on the line take the leaves off and dry the fruit some, but rot still goes into the trailer. Our bog side cleaners are a definite improvement on that but even those can’t handle the high rot beds. So we modified our current facility to put in a four-roller brush system in.”

“Our goal is to keep the rot percentage as low as possible,” Bryan says. “In a bed with 25% rot, for example, we’d hope to remove 10%. If we have a bed that’s at 45, we can knock 20% out; we’d need to pay the fee but still send out the good crop. Now that we’re renovating so heavily it’s worth the investment.”

“We’re working hard to have it ready,” says manager Louis Cantafio. “The equipment arrived the second week of August, but we tried to get all the prep work done ahead of that. It’s all the same stuff they’re running up at the receiving station; so we didn’t really need to build anything new. Bryan did the research and ordered the equipment; my team found some equipment we could purchase used and save some money on the project. We started ordering materials so we could be ready to go when the equipment arrived, and we’ve been going gangbusters ever since!”

“The fruit goes through the line as usual, but then it goes into the table so that it can be spread into one layer and move through the cleaner,” explains Facilities supervisor Mike Guest. “If the berries are packed too close together it won’t work. All the rest of the work on the line are just to accommodate these additions.”

The new line will be done in plenty of time for the harvest, and we’re all looking forward to the results!

First snow of 2018

Not sure if anyone’s heard anything about it, but it’s been a bit cold recently and we’ve even had some snow in the region!

The cold has been a struggle even without the snow. “We haven’t been doing any sanding, obviously,” says Matt Giberson. “At least, not until it thaws out, and in order to do that we need a good rain to melt the ice. We’re at least a week or two from that even happening right now.”

The farm ended up getting about ten to twelve inches in yesterday’s storm, and the team did a lot of work beforehand to get ready. “Some of it was already done as part of the usual routine,” says Louis Cantafio. “But we made sure everything was buttoned up. And in this cold, we’re trying to warm stuff up longer, but otherwise it’s steady as she goes.”

Wednesday was all about storm prep. “We’ve been keeping an eye on the models but you never know what you’re going to get,” said Matt. “We could get anything from one to four inches to one to four feet. But we’re getting the loaders ready and will drop them off with Junior, Wilfredo, Caesar, and Joel so when it hits we can start clearing immediately.” Water, of course, is always our top priority. “The winter flood is on everywhere, and we’ve got all the wells shut down. But it’s been a struggle because of the ice forming; it’s hard to judge what the natural stream is when everything freezes up on us. We’ll keep breaking any ice forming when the snow and the wind blowing into the gates, but we’ll see.”

Our team is also doing as little work outside as possible. “We’re keeping the guys inside because it’s going to be brutal for next couple days. When it warms up we can do outside work on the dams, but when it’s 3 degrees out it limits our outdoor work,” Matt says. “So we’ll keep everyone indoors until the temperature rises a little; we’ll work on sprinklers, build gates, do some clean up, get the camp ready for next year when the seasonal guys come back.”

It’s not easy, but our team will keep doing whatever it takes, whatever the weather!

New cleaning line

Last week we talked about how our team was prepping for harvest, including some equipment modifications. This week, we take a look at the changes to our cleaning facility! Up until now, our cleaning line at the packing house removes trash, debris, leaves, and so forth; however, it does not remove rotten fruit. But our Facilities team is hard at work on upgrades.

“With the standards changing in fruit quality, Ocean Spray is starting to dock growers for any rot amount greater than 20%, and we get charged the cleaning fee,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann. “If the rot percentage goes over 40%, they won’t even take it. We already know that that in the early years in our young beds, it’s easy to get a lot of rot because the canopy isn’t well developed. But we still get some good fruit from them. So what we decided to do was get an analysis on the good fruit from those young beds and see what they were worth. Once we did the math, we found it was a relatively short payback for us to put in brush washers to push the rotten fruit out. The blowers on the line take the leaves off and dry the fruit some, but rot still goes into the trailer. Our bog side cleaners are a definite improvement on that but even those can’t handle the high rot beds. So we modified our current facility to put in a four-roller brush system in.”

“Our goal is to keep the rot percentage as low as possible,” Bryan says. “In a bed with 25% rot, for example, we’d hope to remove 10%. If we have a bed that’s at 45, we can knock 20% out; we’d need to pay the fee but still send out the good crop. Now that we’re renovating so heavily it’s worth the investment.”

“We’re working hard to have it ready,” says manager Louis Cantafio. “The equipment arrived the second week of August, but we tried to get all the prep work done ahead of that. It’s all the same stuff they’re running up at the receiving station; so we didn’t really need to build anything new. Bryan did the research and ordered the equipment; my team found some equipment we could purchase used and save some money on the project. We started ordering materials so we could be ready to go when the equipment arrived, and we’ve been going gangbusters ever since!”

“The fruit goes through the line as usual, but then it goes into the table so that it can be spread into one layer and move through the cleaner,” explains Facilities supervisor Mike Guest. “If the berries are packed too close together it won’t work. All the rest of the work on the line are just to accommodate these additions.”

The new line will be done in plenty of time for the harvest, and we’re all looking forward to the results!

Pine Island Team Profiles: Larry Wedemeyer

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, and our Facilities and Equipment team is one of the best around! This week, we welcomed a new member of our Equipment team: Larry Wedemeyer stepped up to fill the welder position.

Larry hasn’t worked in agriculture before, but is looking forward to the challenge. “I’m a fabricator by trade; I like to build things with my hands,” he says. “I like being able to make something out of nothing.” He went to school through the military in Aberdeen, Maryland, and got certified through the Navy two years ago. Originally from Freehold and now a resident of Browns Mills, moving to the area has been a bit of a culture shock! (Though we probably can’t sway him to root for the Phillies or the Eagles, we will eventually manage to get him to say “pork roll” instead of “Taylor ham”, and are feeling fairly confident that he too will eventually be ordering “wooder ice”, just like the rest of us.) There’s a lot of work to catch up with, but Larry is ready: “They’re going to have me on anything and everything; whatever they throw at me, I’ll fix.”

Manager Louis Cantafio was impressed with Larry’s commitment to the community as a member of his local fire department. “Any position here is a tough position to have open, and this one’s been open for a while. What I liked about Larry was that even though he was between jobs, he was still volunteering in his community. I know that volunteer departments require a lot of training and a lot of time giving back, and that spoke to his character. And his chief gave him a great recommendation.”

COO Bryan vonHahmann is also pleased to see Larry having a good start. “We clearly saw that he had the talent for welding and he had a lot of enthusiam, so that was all good. When he toured the shop, he looked at the welding area and asked if we minded if he changed some things around for better organization. That was encouraging, because it meant he’s someone who takes pride in what they do and ownership of his work area.” Bryan’s also seen some of his work and says it looks fantastic. “He’s starting with some of the irrigation work, and then we’re going to pick up with some of the harvest equipment. We’re building two new blower tractors, which will require some new design work because they’re a different model.”

We’re looking forward to see what Larry does with them, and will be sure to keep you posted!

Equipment – Spring 2017

A coyple of weeks ago we outlined Pine Island’s spring targets. This week, we spoke with some members of the equipment team for a little more detail on their particular projects!

“We have the sand screener in this week for preventative maintenance,” says team member Coco Mercado. “We’re checking the bearings and greasing everything, putting in a new screen in because there were holes in the old one…we’re fixing anything major so in the field they don’t have problems with it.” This is important, because the sand we use for this project needs to be as pure as possible in order to prevent soil compaction (which can restrict water and limit growth) so we screen it before using it on the barge to take out any clay, stones, or other debris which could cause problems. “Since they got a little ahead with the screening, now’s the perfect time to bring it in,” Coco says. “If we work on it now, when they need it again they don’t have to wait, they can just get moving. We’re just waiting for a few parts to come in and it’ll be back out there!”

Other ongoing shop projects include a revamp of the debris trucks that we use in conjunction with our bog side cleaners.

“We had some issues during the last harvest season because the trucks were getting a little top heavy,” says team member Fred Henschel. “We’re going to knock a foot off to help with that. I’m cutting the original ones apart and making them more like the newer ones with the exposed sides and and painting them all to match. Very similar to the original trucks, but a foot shorter in hopes of them being easier to control; there was so much weight hanging off the back that it grew really difficult for the drivers to steer once the trucks filled up. We’re modifying a couple other little things such as changing the way doors are hinged so if something gets stuck, it’ll be easier to access. Whatever we can do to make it easier, better. And in addition to fixing the original four, we’re building three more brand new ones!”

The next phase in our automation program is also underway just in time for the upcoming frost season! Pump automation has been a boon to our operation. Field data is sent wirelessly to a master controller, which continuously communicates with the network of devices, sending commands to turn on engines and pumps when needed. It gives our team a lot more control: the computer actually handles a lot of the start-up and shut-down process, which is what usually takes up a big chunk of the time an operator is out there running water, either during frost or heat. It also helps us reduce our fuel cost and wear and tear on vehicles as well as protecting that most crucial resource for a cranberry operation: water!

Vendors: Sweeney Construction

This week at Pine Island, it’s all business as usual: bloom is just about over and the bee boxes are being removed, we continue work on renovation, and of course, being July, it’s hot out there! So instead of an update on our sprinklers, we decided to bring you the first in an occasional series on some of our favorite vendors. And who better to kick this feature off than Sweeney Construction?

Sweeney Construction, started by Tom Sweeney in 1976, has been working with Pine Island for several years now. After forty years in the business, Tom has retired, and his son Mike is now in charge. “Our first project for Pine Island was the big camp, back when you guys were still in the blueberry business,” Mike says. “It worked out that it was completed right before it was time to use it! We’ve since done probably 12 to 15 different projects over here.” Among those projects: rebuilt three employee homes, renovations on the two camps on the main road, apartment renovations, built three garages, and of course, renovated our main office from a private home to to a building suitable for running a large cranberry operation. Most recently, Sweeney finished the roof on the office with an amazing turnaround time. “Not a lot of companies who can supply that manpower,” Mike says. “It’s been a good relationship for us over the years.” He has high praise for the team members he’s worked with, as well. “It’s been nothing but good interactions with Bill [Haines] and Bryan [vonHahmann],” he says. “And a lot of the jobs here are a little easier because Pine Island has so much of their own equipment. Excavation, septic systems…it helps a lot.” He especially singled out our facilities team (particularly Mike Guest and Louis Cantafio) as well as the precision work of Junior Colon on the excavator.

And Sweeney is also looking ahead! In addition to doing repair to work to a historic farmhouse in Eastampton, they’re working on energy-efficient housing. “Our latest project is with Unity Homes in New Hampshire,” Mike says. “It’s a net zero energy usage house: solar panels, post and beam constructions, exposed materials. It’s being built in-factory in New Hampshire and we’re assembling it down here after we finish the foundation work; we’re planning to set the panels in early August.”

As far as Pine Island is concerned, we will of course let CEO Bill Haines have the last word: “Sweeney Construction is one of our favorite vendors. It’s been a pleasure to work with Tom and Mike. They’re always professional, they always do exactly what they say they’re going to do, they always get it right, and they stand behind their work. I can’t say enough good things about them, and I would recommend them to anyone for any project.”

Around the farm

The rain has let up a little, and our team is out there making things happen!

Bog renovation, of course, remains a top priority, with Junior Colon land-leveling and with the team putting in water lines.

Facilities and Equipment are working on refurbishing the pumps and putting up new pump houses:

In other sections of the farm, regular bog maintenance is ongoing, and the new monitors are going up:

And last but not least, our forestry management areas appear to be thriving!

“Powering” through adversity

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.

Renovation updates: pump houses

Our team was ready this week for the next step in our Black Rock renovation: installing the new engines at the pump houses! This part of the reno is handled by our Facilities/Equipment team, and they certainly have a lot to do.

“Whenever we renovate a system, everything gets replaced new. All new irrigation, all new underdrain, all new water control structures,” explains Facilities/Equipment manager Louis Cantafio. “The old engines come out and get completely rebuilt; they were definitely old enough to replace. We’re also pre-gaming a little bit for the automation process. It’s a little more efficient for our team to work on this at the shop rather than going engine to engine out in the field. Because when the reno team is ready to set main line, the engines must be there already. We don’t ever want to hold up the reno team; the stuff they depend on has to be done ahead of time.” Then once the engines have been set up, Facilities Supervisor Mike Guest can put the buildings up.

Welder Fred Henschel has been working on the aluminum fixtures for the new pumps. “I started these a few months back,” he says. “When the old ones come out, I do try to recycle some parts in other projects, but with these we like to try to keep everything new. We don’t want to have to worry about a line going bad because it rotted away in only a couple of years.” Nonetheless, he likes to be prepared, and is also making a few spares, just to be on the safe side. It’s not much like work, according to him: “I just like to build stuff, really!”

With seven systems to take care of, that’s a lot of work, but the equipment team is up to the challenge. “It’s all about preventing downtime for other departments,” says Louis. “They shouldn’t be held up because of equipment.” And now that everything is installed, our reno team can move on to the next step: installing the main lines!