Integrated Pest Management: Swans

A niche crop like cranberries often has niche challenges! One of the toughest of those might be surprising to some people: the tundra swan. Tundra swans migrate to the area every year from Alaska and northwestern Canada and are particularly fond of red root, a weed that competes with cranberry vines for nutrients. When they fly in to feed, they not only tear out the red root, they also tear out vines and leave enormous holes that damage the beds themselves.

Since the swans are a protected species, growers have had to come up with a harmless solution to keep them safely away from the bogs. At Pine Island our PIICM team has been installing swan string for several years. The strings help keep the swans out of the bog by limiting the space available. “Swans are like a commercial airliner,” CEO Bill Haines says. “Having the strings up disrupts their attempt to both land and take off again.” Not all of the bogs are strung; our team maps them out where we have found red root and where the swans have been spotted. Just three acres of swan damage can give us a loss of 200 barrels per acre, or even more, depending on the variety. That takes three years to come back.

When setting up swan string, the team places rebar in the ground along the longer sides of a bog, about every 75 feet. On the ends of the bog, the team walks it out and determines how many lines they’ll need to run lengthwise though the center. Once the rods are laid out on the dam, a team of three to five people gets into the bog and walks the string across. Once the entire bog is strung, the team goes back in and puts up poles, which are used to keep the strings out of the water so that they don’t freeze. They’re placed in a checkered pattern, not necessarily on every line. The poles can either be cedar posts or recycled irrigation pipe. In addition to the recycling/environmental aspect, reusing the irrigation line is lighter and easier to handle.

In past years, our team installed almost one million feet of swan string, which come out to about one hundred and eighty-seven miles. That’s a lot of walking!

Our team had also adopted a backup method in the past few years: an Agrilaser. From their website:

Deterring pest birds from open and semi-open spaces has long posed a costly and nagging challenge to property owners and managers. While noisemakers like propane cannons can scatter bird pests, they can also be disruptive and must be repeated often to keep birds from coming back. Lethal means of bird control—poisons, pellet guns and inhumane traps—are illegal in many areas, as many birds are protected by law. Bird B Gone’s Agrilaser® provides an effective, humane solution. It uses advanced, patented optical laser-beam technology to harmlessly repel pest birds over great distances—up to 2,000 meters. The handheld device is silent and completely portable. Pest birds react to the green beam as they would an approaching car, so they flee the area. Yet, unlike some deterrent devices, birds will not get used to the laser beam’s implied threat.

With some trial and error around timing and placement, our team found that it did have some effect, though it’s still not our primary option. “You’d think they’d stay away with all the equipment around, but they don’t,” says Matt Giberson. “But since it’s been effective the past couple of years, it’s good to have a backup to keep both the bogs and the birds safe.”

Winter flood 2021

The winter flood has begun!

The cranberry growing season lasts from April to November; the fruiting buds mature during the winter dormancy period. During the dormant season, severe winter weather could harm or even kill cranberry vines, which is why growers must take preventative measures to protect their crop. Under normal conditions, the temperature steadily drops post-harvest; it is important to wait until the vines go dormant before starting to put the water on. When vines go dormant, they turn burgundy in color:

Our winter flood program starts with making sure the water in the reservoirs is at the level we need. If there has no been significant rain to get the reservoirs to flooding level, we start our wells. We will continue to use the wells to maintain the reservoirs and the stream needed to get the bogs flooded.

The next step is placing boards in the gates to start bringing the water level up in the bogs, much like we do to prep for the flooding at harvest in the fall. “There’s a lot to know. How the water works, where it’s coming from, where it has to go, how to move it the most efficient way,” says Matt Giberson. “It’s not something you learn overnight.” In practice, this means constant awareness and monitoring of where the water is coming from, where it is going, and how much stream is coming down.

Flooding starts by letting in streams from the reservoirs to canals and bogs. Strategic board placement (more boards in the southernmost bogs to catch the water) will get the ditches high and running down to start flooding from the bottom up.

As the water level in the bogs begins to rise, our team begins adjusting the water level in the bogs by adding boards where they are needed. Once the vines are covered and the stream has settled, we adjust the level of the reservoirs to maintain the stream and keep the bogs flooded for the winter. Wells are shut down once bogs are flooded, and only turned on again if it is dry and reservoir levels are dropping.

It is also necessary to make sure we are not losing water anywhere. “Sometimes you can hear the water coming through a gate that’s supposed to hold it,” Matt says. “It’s the same as running diesel fuel; it’s a big waste, and we need to try to stop it or slow it down.” He does this by adding sand or even grass in front of the leaking boards, as sometimes the sand can wash away too quickly.

Once we are flooded, our team needs to constantly monitor the bogs to make sure there are no leaks, that the water level remains steady, and that the stream remains constant. The weather is also a factor: no rain for a long period of time will shrink the reservoirs and wells may need to be started to maintain the water level in the bogs. Matt says, “If it gets cold enough for the water to freeze, I also need to check to see if I have to break any ice to keep the stream flowing, especially on the southeast gates.”

Team communication is crucial to the process, adds Jeremy Fenstermaker, because “an action in one section will have a huge effect somewhere else. It’s important to learn the whole process but it’s even more important to know how it all ties together.”

Vendors: A Rose In December

Local florist A Rose In December is a vendor that Pine Island Cranberry is proud to support! The Medford shop is a long-time business and personal favorite of both the farm and the family; they do beautiful work.

Owner December Giberson-Shover is also actively involved in the community, particularly with local schools. “Giberson-Shover has a long history of volunteerism in the community,” says the NJEA. “For 11 years, she has worked with the Lenape School District transitional program. She accepts district students with special needs and, through her business, mentors them in life and work skills.”

There is one cause that’s particularly close to her heart: Operation Yellow Ribbon.

Operation Yellow Ribbon is a south Jersey-based nonprofit “consisting of all volunteers who shows support for our United States Military Forces serving in the Middle East including Iraq, Afghanistan and those supporting Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Inherent Resolve through”:

1) Organizing and collecting donated U.S. Troop supplies and goodies to send to our brave Heroes deployed in harm’s way in the Middle East including Iraq, Afghanistan and those supporting Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Inherent Resolve

2) Helping to promote, coordinate, and facilitate welcoming home events for local veterans in the South Jersey area by partnering with the Warriors Watch Riders and other Patriotic organizations to bring our local Heroes home in “Rock Star Fashion”

This year alone so far they’ve sent 38,826 pounds of goodies and 1,181 huge care packages to U.S. troops.

Giberson-Shover, whose son is in army, is passionate about the importance of pulling the community together. Earlier this year, a committee of made up of local businesses (this year’s theme: Unity In The Community), working with Operation Yellow Ribbon, managed to fill two school buses with donations. A fundraiser last month at the Flying W in Lumberton sold 200 tickets and raised $12,600, which covered the shipping costs of 360 packages for U.S. troops. “We don’t want the troops to think we don’t appreciate them,” she says. “They give up so much to let us have our freedom.”

It’s a perspective that Bill Haines appreciates. His daughter Becca and son-in-law Jeremy met while both were serving in the Army, and Pine Island’s equipment team also counts a Army vet in their number with Larry Wedemeyer. “We are grateful we can help an organization like Operation Yellow Ribbon that supports those few who sacrifice so much to protect us all,” Bill says.

If you are also interested in supporting this organization, you can do so tonight! Come to the volleyball match at 5:30 P.M. at Seneca High School and bring a care package item to support Operation Yellow Ribbon and be ready to cheer on your favorite volleyball or football players!

“I’m blessed with wonderful fellow business owners,” Giberson-Shover says. “I’m hopeful we’ll continue to have that kind of community support.”

With a planned 2022 theme of “Honor The Brave”, that’s entirely likely!

Pine Island History: Bill Haines, Sr. – Third Generation

William Stokes Haines, Sr., Ralph Haines’s younger son, was the third generation to run Pine Island Cranberry, and is the one who really made it what it is today.

Raised in Vincentown with his older brother Martin, Bill always had an interest in the family business as well as agriculture in general. “I love all kinds of farming. I was reared in the cranberry business, but I had a good friend who was a general farmer still using the old methods,” he recalled to a reporter in 1985. “He had pigs and cows and still farmed with horses. He was seventy; I was ten. I learned to milk, to handle horses and do all types of farm work. I was fascinated.”

After graduating from Pemberton High School in 1939, he briefly attended Rutgers before returning to farming full-time and the rest, as they say, is history. Under his guidance and leadership, Haines and Haines grew from 400 acres to what it is today as Pine Island. “The cranberry industry has changed dramatically in my time,” he said in an interview. “Harvesting has gone from hand picking to scooping to mechanical dry harvesting to water picking. Mechanical pruners, ditching machinery, sprinkler systems, and new varieties have all modernized our business.”

What he so modestly left out was how much of that modernization was due to his work. In a tribute to him after his passing, Mark Ehlenfeldt offered a succinct summary:

Bill had experimented with various aspects of wet harvesting going back to the late 1940s, but the pivotal event occurred in 1960, when he borrowed a water-reel harvester being tested in Massachusetts, and brought it to his farm. He soon duplicated the machine and began hauling in record-breaking numbers of barrels. . .per acre of bog. By 1962, it was the only method of harvesting he used on his farm. Edward V. Lipman in his book “Labor of Love: My Life’s Work With Cranberries and Ocean Spray” recounted that after Bill made his first wet harvest on 25 acres of his own property, the Cutts brothers were so impressed they interrupted their harvest to build their own wet-harvest equipment. Soon almost all other New Jersey cranberry growers had followed suit.”

Bill was a strong proponent of research as well as innovation and and helped establish and support the Philip E. Marucci Center for Blueberry & Cranberry Research at Oswego. Many years later, Dr. Nick Vorsa named a new variety in his memory.

Part of the reason behind the decision to name the new variety for Bill Sr, Nick says, is that Bill generously offered beds for the early Rutgers cranberry breeding program: “He greatly enjoyed walking the Rutgers breeding plots on the bed and observing the performance of over 1,600 plots.” As the release says, “[e]mbracing new technology was a priority for Bill”; he never took anything for granted and was always looking for ways to improve the crop not just for his own farm, but for his fellow growers as well.

His greatest legacy, however, comes from the stories he left behind. Ask any local farmer who knew him to tell you a story about Bill, and you’ll be amazed at what they have to say. The breadth of his agricultural knowledge and his community involvement as well as the depth of his generosity and kindness (not to mention his total aversion to anyone referencing any of it) are still spoken of today.

Bill Sr. farmed the way he did because he saw the benefit not for himself, nor for the next generation, but for the generations to follow. And that’s still how Pine Island Cranberry operates today: doing whatever it takes to grow cranberries better every day.

2021: end of season!

Our Pine Island team finished harvesting a record crop and sent the final truckload to Ocean Spray this morning!

We had a record year, finishing with our highest yield ever (with a top-ten average barrels per acre) even with some challenges along the way. “We started sending fruit from the young beds up to the receiving station a week earlier than we ever have,” says Bryan VonHahmann. “We were sensitive to quality and balancing that with the color. Then we took nearly two weeks off, waiting for color on the established beds. But once we started back up, we went 26 days without a break and finished up in record time.”

“We had a slightly smaller crew this year but still brought in more fruit on more acres in less time, so those are some pretty major accomplishments,” he says. “We also didn’t have any frost nights, which helps with manpower, and we harvested every bed but three with the harrows, which saved us a ton of time. And the fruit quality was overall the best it’s been in several years!”

CEO Bill Haines was happy with the end results. “We had a great crop; a record crop,” he says. “I’m very proud of it, and the team that produced it. I think we’re living our value of continuous improvement in terms of the fruit and how we grow it, how we care of it, how we pick it, and how we strive to grow as many quality berries as we can as efficiently as possible.”

What’s next for our team? “We’re ready to start Monday on growing the next one.”

Flooding for the harvest

Everything here starts, as we have said so often, with the water.

Water is essential for cranberry production all year round, but during harvest good water management is paramount. At Pine Island, managing the water for their crews is the central task for our three harvest teams. “You always have to stay a little ahead of the flooding,” says Jeremy Fenstermaker. No matter when a team moves to a new bog system, he and the other team leaders need to have the water started well before that. “You eventually develop an instinct for water levels and how to raise and drop the levels in a bog in order to maximize efficiency for the crews,” he says, and is always thinking of ways to make things better and how to move water faster. Part of his job is simply making daily observations and taking note of things that could be improved. “Sometimes you find a place that would be better to put a gate, or you find a way to move water through a canal rather than a reservoir.” In order to conserve water, Pine Island manages things so that we reuse as much water as possible to harvest as many bogs as possible. It’s arranged in a very specific pattern to work with gravity and conserve energy.

While it is the overriding priority, water management is not a team leader’s only concern. They also has to coordinate with his crew leaders; when the team on the Gates Harrow are done, they move ahead to the next bog while the gathering crew get the berry pump set up and begin to corral the berries before sending them to the receiving station. The team leader’s job is to make sure that the timing of each crew complements the other.

Even before the bog is flooded, the team leaders have a lot to do. They need to pull sprinklers, stake bogs so the harrow driver knows where to start (or, in older bogs that still use the reels, so the crew leader knows which direction to go), place boards in flood gates, flood to picking level, pick, flood some more in order to tighten the boom around the berries and bring them to the elevator without having to pull through high grass or weeds, and then gather. “And it’s not as easy as it looks,” Jeremy says wryly.

In addition to maintaining the careful choreography of a typical daily harvest, the team leaders must have a back-up plan for when something goes wrong. . .and something will always go wrong! A flood gate will get clogged, a harvester will break down, a truck won’t start. . . a team leader needs to prepare for all those things and either know what he has to do to fix them himself or how to delegate. “Knowledge comes with experience,” Jeremy says. “If you do it long enough, you get a feel for what needs to happen.”

Berry pump

About six years ago, we made some changes from the way we’d been gathering the crop for years by investing in a new berry pump, also known as a bogside cleaner. The bogside cleaner improved the process by taking out a stop at our packing house between the bog and the receiving station and removing debris as the berries come out of the water. 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.

When we first started considering a berry pump, some of our team went out to Wisconsin and looked at three or four makes of cleaners as well as looking at one owned by our neighbors. 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. So when we ordered a second machine, 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 same time we sent the old cleaning box back and they sent us the new 5 grate design in return.

We learn a little more every year about the best way to run the bog side cleaners, and now we’re up to four! This summer our equipment team built racks for the trailer to carry the things the crew will need for them. “A lot of what we’re doing is polish on the berry pump operations, really; the first couple of years we were learning how to use them, then we we were experimenting with various modifications to customize them for our own operation,” Louis Cantafio said at the time.

Each crew used to carry around all the stuff for the pumps, but racks are going to keep things more organized and more accessible. It’s going to be much more efficient when a crew can readily see that they have everything they need.

Hauling – 2021 harvest

While our picking schedule sometimes changes, the processes involved remain pretty much the same!

Once the fruit is gathered, it’s run through the bogside cleaner, which removes debris (such as leaves, vines, et cetera) as the berries are coming out of the bog. It’s a very efficient process that means we can get the fruit to the Ocean Spray receiving station as quickly as possible, and we have a fleet of trucks to help that along!

The trucks are wired to a set of lights so the gathering team leader can communicate effectively from the 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!

Harvesting methods – 2021

While our team started harvesting our young beds and early varieties a couple of weeks ago (some varieties color earlier than others, and that is a factor we consider when planning our picking strategy), the slightly warmer September weather has meant that we’re not getting all the color that we want, so our team went down to one crew this week and are even getting a weekend off!

So far this year the crews have been running the Gates Harrow, rather than our old reel harvesters.

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.

As the nights continue to cool down, we’ll start seeing more color; by October, we’ll be running all three harvest teams!

North Atlantic Prescribed Fire Science Workshop 2021

Pine Island was the final stop on the tour for the 2021 North Atlantic Prescribed Fire Science Workshop. The goal for the workshop was “to reset, recharge, and reimagine the future of fire science co-production”, with a trip to Pine Island and other sites to “stimulate discussion about regional prescribed fire science challenges and solutions.”

Pine Island was chosen as a site for the Northern Bobwhite Restoration Initiative back in 2013. Over the course of four years (from 2014 to 2018), over 300 wild birds were captured on private land in Georgia, then transferred to our farm, where they were fitted with radio collars, released, and monitored, with the goal of establishing a self-sustaining population. Our site was chosen for several reasons, among them a state-approved Forest Stewardship Plan outlining long-term management goals as well as the extent of existing quality habitat already onsite from years of active forestry work, prescribed burning and agricultural best management practices that made it stand out above other sites in the region.

Why is prescribed burning so important?

Thirty miles east of Philadelphia, the New Jersey Pinelands National Reserve is one of the largest tracts of unbroken forest in the eastern United States. An urban escape, the 1.1-million-acre New Jersey Pine Barrens, as it’s known colloquially, features a mix of pitch pine, oak, and cedar forestland, and is home to roughly 850 plant and nearly 500 animal species—including dozens of rare and threatened species, such as the Pine Barrens tree frog and the swamp pink orchid. It’s also one of the most flammable landscapes in North America. In fact, scientists who study the physics and ecology of wildfire have long used the Pine Barrens as a laboratory. Those who study fire here are honing techniques for protecting residents in fire-prone ecosystems around the country. They’re also using fire as a tool to restore critical habitats and conserve threatened species in this fragile ecosystem. – AMC Outdoors, September 30, 2020.

Upon arrival, the group got to hear from John Parke of NJ Audubon about the details of the Northern Bobwhite Quail Initiative, as well as some background on the farm and property itself from Pine Island owner Bill Haines. After, the group was able to wander around the site for a little while to see what our fire practices have done for the landscape.

“For the recovery of Northern Bobwhite Quail it is important to understand that prescribed fire is a principal management tool used in habitat restoration for this species,” said John Parke, Stewardship Project Director of NJ Audubon. “NJ Audubon is very proud to have been asked by the North Atlantic Fire Science Exchange to be part of this workshop and showcase our Bobwhite Quail Translocation Project at the Pine Island Cranberry property. Also NJ Audubon would like to thank Pine Island Cranberry Company and the NJ Forest Fire Service for their amazing work to implement prescribed burning for the project and in the region, which not only helps create and maintain suitable habitat for Quail and other Pinelands species, but also helps to maintain proper Pinelands ecosystem functionality and protect the people and their property of the region by reducing fuel loads.”

Thank you to Amanda Mahaffey (Forest Stewards Guild) for putting the program together, and thank you to Albert Simeoni (WPI), Gabriel Cahalan (The Nature Conservancy), Geoffrey Lohmeyer (Ocean County Parks), Greg McLaughlin (NJ Forest Fire Service), J. Kevin Hiers (Tall Timbers), James Remuzzi (Sustainable Solutions, LLC), Jens Stevens (USDA Forest Service R&D Washington Office), Jeremy Webber (NJ Forest Fire Service), Jesse Kreye (Penn State University), Juan Cuevas (Worcester Polytechnic Institute), Ken Clark (USDA Forest Service), Kyle Derr (Sustainable Solutions LLC), Lauren Howard (Arcadia University), Maura Roisin O’Connor, Michael R. Gallagher (USDA Forest Service), Nick Skowronski (USDA Forest Service), Robert L Kremens (Rochester Institute of Technology), Robert Somes (NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife), Sam Adams (Sustainable Solutions LLC), Sheila Kappeler-Finn (Duende Consulting), Steve Holmes (US Fish and Wildlife/USAF Wildland Fire Program), Vinh Lang (Pine Creek Forestry), Virginia Schutte (NAFSE), William F Brash (NJ Fire Safety Council), and last but not least, longtime friend and neighbor Tom Gerber of Quoexin Cranberry Company for attending!