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!

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!

Trommel

Pine Island Cranberry has only been using our bogside cleaner for one season but our team is already figuring out ways to make it even better!

Our Equipment team spent a considerable amount of time over the past month or so working on a trommel attachment in order to increase the efficiency of the bogside cleaner. (A trommel, also known as a “trommel screen,” is a screened cylinder used to separate materials by size.)

The team took it on a trial run last week and were pleased with the results! “It did exactly what it was supposed to do,” says welder Fred Henschel. What this new extension is actually supposed to do is take in all the trash produced by the berry pump: berries that are too small, leaves, twigs…anything not supposed to go with the fruit, along with all the water it’s pulling up from the bog. “The problem before was, we were pulling in so much water it wasn’t separating from the trash enough,” Fred says. “We couldn’t entirely disperse the water and the trash truck would end up pulling away more than half full of water as opposed to full of just the debris.”

The team’s modifications made it possible to send clean water back into the bog and the debris into the trucks. It was also more efficient from a time and fuel standpoint, since instead of using three to four trash trucks per trailer load of berries, the gathering crew was able to load one tractor trailer with one trash truck. “It saved time on switching, as well,” Fred says. When it was time to switch out the trash truck, the team would have to stop the pump, pull the truck all the way out to the far corner of the bog, then back another truck all the way back in. Skipping that step allows the harvest to move much faster.

And in the true spirit of doing whatever it takes…”The guys were so excited to try it out that it couldn’t fail,” Fred says.

*Photos by Fred Henschel

Green Team – Gathering

Pine Island Cranberry’s harvest teams kicked into high gear this week, and our Green Team was out at our Warehouse bogs for the last time before their upcoming 2015 renovation! CEO Bill Haines outlined the upcoming renovation plans back in August: “We’ve known that the Early Blacks are our weakest variety and eventually need to be entirely replaced, and decided to become more aggressive about it. By 2022, we’ve targeted 769 acres to replace Early Blacks with hybrid varieties, and we’re going to do it by using some of the same techniques they use in Wisconsin.” He points out some of results already taking place at Panama, finished in 2012. “We already had a lot of great fruit after only two growing seasons,” he says. “In 2013, we had nearly 218 barrels to the acre in Panama #6. This year, we had 493 barrels to the acre. That’s the direction we want to be going.”

In the meantime, our team was doing whatever it takes to make sure the final Warehouse harvest was completed quickly and efficiently, just as they always do!

Team member Bob Heritage was hauling to the packing house for the Green Team this week, one of the many tasks he has performed over the last thirty-four years he’s been with us. A former dairy farmer, Bob says, “I told Bill when I started, I don’t know anything about cranberries…but if there’s a cow in the bog I can get her out!” Fortunately, we’ve never had to deal with that issue, but Bob has proven over and over again his drive to learn and his willingness to do what he has to do when it’s time to do it. “I’ve done just about everything,” Bob says. “I’ve worked frost, renovation…but cranberry season is my favorite part. You get to see what you’ve been working toward all year, and it’s beautiful to look at, besides.”

Bog renovation manager Joe Colon has nothing but good things to say about Bob. “He’s a hard worker,” Joe says. “And he never complains. If you tell him he needs to do something that he’s never done before, he’s not afraid or worried. He learns it, and tries to figure out ways to make it even better.”

While Bob is pondering retirement, he’s not quite ready to go yet: “When I first started here, we were building the bogs at Black Rock. Now [along with Warehouse] they’re on the schedule to be renovated next year. I’ll get to see the entire cycle. There’s not many people who can say that.”

Green Harvest Team

Harvest is still going full steam ahead, with three crews working seven days a week to bring everything in and our fourth crew cleaning up behind them.

Our Green harvest team was out at the north end of the home farm this week, finishing up at Mule Island. Green Team supervisor Jeremy Fenstermaker is working with picking crew leader Rick Zapata again this year, but the gathering crew has a new leader in Waldemar Blanco. Waldy is a fourteen year team member who has done many things during his tenure here. He is an experienced member of our frost team, worked round the clock during the terrible Labor Day storm last year, and in general is a team player, flexible and ready to go whenever a job needs to be done for the crop.

The gathering team has a tough job. Once the boom is placed in the bog, each end is attached to a tractor, which slowly moves along the dam, corralling the berries. It can be more difficult in some places than others, depending on terrain. Sometimes the ground is uneven, and the boom can push back and some fruit escapes. Some members of the gathering crew follow alongside, “sweeping” the berries and making sure they stay within bounds. It looks really simple but it’s tough to get the hang of it; a lot of guys want to move quickly but it actually gets done faster if you slow down. You only move as fast as the tractor; your body should be slow but your arms should move fast. Once that is done, both ends of the boom are connected to the boom reel, which is wound tighter as the berries are brought up the elevator onto the truck. While part of the crew is pulling the boom tighter, the other part of the crew is setting up the elevator in order to remove the berries from the water and load the trucks bound for the packing house.

Communication is key to all of this, which is why it’s important to have good leaders. Waldy was an excellent choice for this position, having served as the second-in-command when Jorge Morales ran the Green gathering crew last year. “It’s a little different this year,” Waldy says. “I’ve worked on crews with different leaders, but it’s always been with guys who’ve come back year after year. This year, we have some new people. It’s a lot of work to teach them the routine at first, but now everyone knows what they have to do, and they do it.” The weather can make things difficult, he says. “Every year when we get to one particular area, it rains for a week! It’s always something. But we do what we have to do.”

Harvest team supervisor Jeremy Fenstermaker is pleased with Waldy’s work. “He’s been on a gathering crew pretty much since he started here,” Jeremy says. “He has a good sense of what needs to be done, and he does it. He was a natural choice to step up, and he’s doing a good job. The guys respect him, too. That counts for a lot. If your team knows what they need to do, it goes like clockwork.”

Waldy is a great example of someone who does whatever it takes to help Pine Island Cranberry achieve our mission. He works hard, does what needs to be done when it’s time to do it, and has stepped up to fulfill a leadership role and enable his team to hit their targets every day. Team members like Waldy are the kind of people who are helping Pine Island Cranberry do everything we do better every day.

Gathering

Last week we went into a bog with one of our picking crews. The next step is one of the most beautiful (and heavily photographed) sights of the harvest every year: gathering the crop. But as with everything related to the harvest, it’s not as simple as our well-trained team makes it look.

An afternoon spent with Tug Haines’ Blue Team at Red Road shows just how much work goes into the second part of the harvesting process. It can be more difficult in some places than others, depending on terrain. “Sometimes the ground is uneven,” Tug says. “The boom has a chain weight underneath, but if the ground is high enough the boom can push back and some fruit escapes.” This is less of a problem with bogs that have been renovated, since the beds are completely level.

Once the knocking machines leave the bog, it’s time to put the boom in. It’s not always necessary to get more than one or two people into the water for this part, but on this particular bog system there are several trees lining one edge, so the gathering crew, led by Kelvin Colon, need to get into the bog and do this by hand.

Each end is then attached to a tractor, which slowly moves along the dam, corralling the berries. Some members of the gathering crew follow alongside, “sweeping” the berries and making sure they stay within bounds. “There’s a trick to it,” Tug says. “It looks really simple but it’s tough to get the hang of it; a lot of guys want to move quickly but it actually gets done faster if you slow down. You only move as fast as the tractor; your body should be slow but your arms should move fast.” Once that is done, both ends of the boom are connected to the boom reel, which is wound ever tighter as the berries are brought up the elevator onto the truck.

While part of the crew is pulling the boom ever tighter, the other part of the crew are setting up the elevator in order to remove the berries from the water and load the trucks bound for the packing house. There are two parts to the elevator: the bed elevator, which is the part that runs into the bog, and the truck elevator, which is the part that leads up to the truck.

As the bed elevator is lowered into the water, someone is there to connect it to the sprayer, which uses the water to help push the berries up to the elevator.

Once all of this is done, it’s time to start moving the berries into the trucks, which have been lined up and are waiting for the set-up to be finished. As each truck pulls up, a crew member jumps up top and makes sure the load is level and that no berries are lost. Kelvin, the Blue Team gathering crew leader, explains, “We get a board to cover the top of the trucks because the two boxes on the back are separate; it keeps the berries from falling between.”

Communication is key with this endeavor; the crew member standing on the truck has to signal both the drivers and the crew members in the water when to stop and when to start. Kelvin’s job is to oversee all of this; he needs to keep the crew and the trucks moving, makes sure that no berries are escaping the boom, makes sure that the crew is pushing berries away. He needs to keep the berries evenly distributed among the boxes on the trucks. Once they’re down to about ten boxes, Tug will start letting the water out. The trick there is not to raise it too high for the pickers in the next bog.

Vincent Arnwine, a new team member who started just before harvest, is visibly impressed by the teamwork involved. “Last week, some of the guys on the picking crew pitched in to help us finish at the end of the day. It’s really cool to work at a place where everyone is willing to do what needs to be done; nobody’s above doing something and no one is afraid of hard work.”

This attention to detail and willingness to step up to the plate shows: our Blue Team has finished the Sim Place portion of the harvest, and despite the flooding and other weather-related setbacks, Sim Place has set a new record. Pine Island Cranberry is proud of every single member of our entire team, who have worked so hard in the past weeks to help get us all here.