From Bill’s Desk: Keeping our team safe

One in an occasional series of entries from CEO Bill Haines.

On Monday, March 23, Bill addressed our team about recent world events and how Pine Island has decided to handle the pandemic in the short term.

After giving it a lot of thought, we decided the prudent thing to do was to shut down for at least a week. The management team will meet next Monday and assess what’s going on in the world, and then we’ll decide whether we’re going to work next Tuesday or not. If we decide it’s a no go, we’ll wait another week and assess.

We understand that everyone has families to take care of and bills to pay, so we’re going to make sure everyone gets their weekly paycheck.

We also understand that this is a farm and Mother Nature doesn’t wait. We need to grow the crop and we need to harvest it. We understand this is going to put us behind. Whenever we can come back to work, we’re going to do whatever it takes to catch up. If that means working dark to dark and Saturdays and Sundays, that’s what we’re going to do. We’ve never been through a pandemic but we’ve been through plenty of emergencies: in the Labor Day flood of 2012, we had 16 inches of rain in 9 hours that took out all of our reservoirs and many of our interior dams, as well as damaging irrigation systems. And we put all that back together in three weeks and started harvest right on time. So I know that my team can do that; we can do whatever it is we have to do.

I also want to remind everyone to do everything that’s been requested of them in terms of social distancing and washing their hands, etc. This is to keep everyone safe. This is not just time off; this is to keep all of us safe. Stay home, take care of yourselves, and take care of your families.

For our readers: please take care of yourselves and stay safe. We’re all in this together!

Blog anniversary – 2020

Eight years ago today, Pine Island Cranberry launched this website and started a weekly blog about the ins and outs of the New Jersey cranberry harvest, and it’s been another busy year!

Not long after our last blog anniversary post, there was a fire in the area that you might have heard about. The local community, of course, turned out in force, as they always do. We remain proud of our team and our neighbors!

Speaking of neighbors, we also launched a new occasional feature where you can meet some of our fellow New Jersey growers! So far we’ve profiled our immediate neighbors in the north (the Lees) and the south (the Sooys, and most recently, had a chance to speak with the Cutts family! This feature is now second only to harvest as a reader (and blogger) favorite, and you can look forward to more in the coming year.

The ACGA also continues to be a source of information and community for New Jersey growers as well; our team members attended meetings (along with researchers from the Marucci Center at Rutgers) in both winter and summer, as usual. In addition, this year it was Pine Island’s turn to host the annual twilight meeting.

In farming, you do what you have to do when you have to do it, and our team continued to make sure that all necessary task were completed as necssary, from prescribed burning to this year’s bog renovation plan. Winter work like sanding, installing swan string, and putting on the winter flood went smoothly, though a bit warmer than they’d like. Last spring and summer they handled taking off the water, frost, and planting, and bees, as well as getting our usual visits from Dr. Joan Davenport and taking her suggestions for plant nutrition. They also spent a considerable amount of time getting everything ready for our biggest season of all.

The annual harvest is everyone’s favorite time of year, from start to finish. Our team did some experimenting with picking methods,a nd had to make some temperature based changes. And of course, we were able to show around some supermarket buyers on the annual Ocean Spray Bog to Bottle tour!

There were also some changes at Ocean Spray that will have a big effect for New Jersey: Dan Schiffhauer retired! Fortunately, he was able to help choose his successor, and our team was very pleased to welcome Lindsay Wells-Hansen back to the area and are looking forward to getting her input during the growing season.

The Pine Island team hit some personal milestones since last March! Jorge Morales retired, while Wilfredo Pagan and Emmanuel Colon had significant work anniversaries. Our team has also gone out into the community with a presentation at Lakeside Garden Club, welcomed back Moorestown Friends for another visit, and even saw former CFO Holly Haines receive some service recognition.

Our team also continued to be good sports about the annual Thanksgiving post. (Thank you all.)

We also managed to have a little fun this year. Another new occasional feature is an addition to our Pine Island history tag: some backstory to some of our more colorful bog names!

Last but not least, Pine Island (and the NJ cranberry industry) appeared in several media articles toward the end of the year. Of course, there were some lovely photos by the Burlington County Times, and a fun feature about the weather from Joe Martucci of the Press of Atlantic City. Many of our friends and neighbors were interviewed for a piece that appeared on The Pulse. And best of all, a local fourth grade class is trying to make cranberry juice the New Jersey state beverage!

It’s been an eventful year for Pine Island Cranberry! And we’re going to keep doing what we need to do, now and in the future, to keep bringing you the high quality fruit that our industry – and New Jersey – is known for.

Birches property

Now that we are beginning renovations at the Birches in Tabernacle, it seemed like a good time to bring back this post from September 14, 2018 about a little of the property’s history.

Pine Island has recently bought back some of the acreage known as the Birches (originally purchased by our founder, Martin L. Haines, in the late 19th century) and this week took a tour with botanist and historian Ted Gordon to chat about the farm’s history.

According to Ted:

. . . the first cranberry bogs were set out in wilderness about five miles southeast of the Burlington County village of Tabernacle by Pemberton’s legendary pioneer grower Theodore Budd just prior to 1859. Around 1880, Budd sold these bogs and the nearby Goose Pond to Martin L. Haines of Vincentown, who set out additional bogs. . . On the sudden death of Martin in 1905, management of the Birches and its satellite holdings passed to sons Ernest M. and Ethelbert Haines. In 1920, Ernest became the sole owner and manager, while Ethelbert (Bert) presided over the company’s holdings at Hog Wallow.

“Ernest was a very good carpenter,” Ted says. “He built the house that’s still standing here as a foreman’s house originally.” There are also several buildings still in existence that were moved from other cranberry farms at Burrs Mill and Johnson Place. Ernest died in 1935 and ownership of the Birches passed to his sister, whose children and grandchildren continued to manage the farm until the death of Mary Ann Thompson in 2015.

The Birches’ centerpiece is a 120′ by 40′ cranberry sorting barn, the construction of which began more than a century ago. It is one of only three such buildings in continuous operation in the Burlington County cranberry district.

The Haines family is very pleased to return to the land that gave us our start; it’s wonderful to be able to come full circle. We have a lot of ideas for the Birches, and plan to hold steadfast to our core values while also doing its history justice. In this effort, we have a tremendous advantage: Ted Gordon’s knowledge of local history is exceeded only by his enthusiasm for it, and we are truly grateful for his willingness to share it with us!

Meet Our Neighbors: The Cutts Family

The New Jersey cranberry industry is small, but it is mighty. Welcome to the next installment of our occasional series about some of our fellow New Jersey cranberry growers! This week, we spoke with fifth generation grower and (ACGA President) Shawn Cutts of Cutts Brothers.

1. How long has your family been in the business?

Our family has been growing cranberries since at least 1906 when we purchased bogs in Tabernacle. Currently we have bogs in Bass River, Washington, and Tabernacle. We joined the Ocean Spray Cooperative in 1948. Five generations of the family have worked on the bogs including the three generations currently in the business.

2. What’s your favorite aspect of cranberry farming?

Harvest is everyone’s favorite season of the year at the bogs. Not only is it the time when all of your hard work is realized, it is also a great time for our family to work together and for visitors and friends to come share in the experience. Of course, a sea of floating red berries on a perfect fall day is a beautiful sight that is difficult to beat.

3. What has been your biggest challenge?

There is never a shortage of challenges for cranberry growers. Weather, bugs, weeds, rot, disease, governmental issues, and market uncertainty come to mind. All take turns at the top of our list. Collectively as growers we work hard to address these issues as best we can. We are fortunate to have some of the world’s top cranberry researchers close by at the Rutgers Marucci Cranberry Research Center.

4. What makes your operation unique?

Perhaps not unique, but certainly uncommon these days is the way we work together as a family. Whenever it is harvest time or there is a big project such as planting, nearly everyone in the family pitches in to help in some way. Whether it is running a picker, driving a tractor, gathering sprinklers, or cooking meals, everyone contributes. Other family members from Tennessee, Alabama, and Texas also come for all or part of the harvest season to help out. Although we are all exhausted by the end of the day, it is gratifying to accomplish the day’s work together as a family.

5. What’s a legendary story in your family?

There are many stories. The one that stands out for me took place when I was in middle school. It was an unusually cold frost night and much of the family was away attending a funeral. My dad and grandfather were the only ones left to run the sprinklers for frost. That night it got so cold that the sprinkler heads began to ice over and stop turning. I still remember my mom bursting into my room in the middle of the night and telling me to get dressed immediately to go to the bogs. After racing out there, my mom, my younger brother, and I spent the rest of the night breaking ice off sprinklers. It seemed like it took forever for the sun to rise, but when it finally did we had succeeded in saving the crop. Much to my displeasure, there was still time to make it to school that morning.

*Photos courtesy of Shawn Cutts.

Previously: The Sooy Family

Habitats

Originally posted on February 22, 2019.

Pine Island Cranberry has been a long-time proponent of prescribed burning and works closely with the fire service and our forester when it comes to this crucial method of forest maintenance. “Pine Island has a very long history of using prescribed burns to protect life and property on their land as well as the surrounding area,” says Bob Williams of Pine Creek Forestry. “In addition, it is used to sustain or enhance the overall ecological health of their forest. Fire is a critical component of sustaining this forest and used often in the farm’s forest management program. These forests need fire; it is as essential as rain or sunshine to the life of the forest. Native Americans used fire to sustain this forest as well as most forests across North America for millennia, and many plants and animals need fire to provide critical habitat components in their lives.”

One species who relies on critical forest maintenance is, of course, the bob white quail. According to the latest from New Jersey Audubon:

The use of prescribed burning on the landscape helps remove built up thatch, dead leaves, twigs, and accumulated plant and organic materials that can impede quail and wildlife movement. Prescribed burning also helps to increase the growth of new and existing plants, which can provide an important food source for wildlife in the form of seeds and insects that the plants may host or provide pollen for. This restoration action of performing prescribed burning is essential to the habitat needs of Northern Bobwhite, ensuring Bobwhite have enough resources come spring and the breeding season. Prescribed burning also helps many other wildlife species of the Pinelands that evolved in this disturbance and fire dependent landscape.

The article goes on to say:

Following this year’s prescribed burn at the Northern Bobwhite study site, NJ Audubon staff were on site and tracked, via telemetry, 12 radio-collared Northern Bobwhite adults, along with 20-25 juvenile birds that revealed themselves to be with the radio-collared quail. As found in previous years of the study, after burning, the birds move into denser cover along the edges of the burn areas.

“Restoration is continual,” said NJ Audubon’s Stewardship Project Director John Parke. “People often forget that you have to maintain an ecosystem, and think in the ‘long term’, and sometimes perform activities that may seem counterproductive in order to have the natural systems function properly for future generations. In a state like New Jersey that has significant pressures placed on an already limited land base it is important to realize that ‘restoration’ is not just a one or two time action, it is a series of science-based actions over a sustained period of time.”

Cold weather options

We’ve had some cold winters recently, but this one has been comparatively milder. The past couple of days, however, have been a little more chilly. The cold can made our winter tasks more challenging, and in some past instances, we’ve had to alter plans temporarily. The following lists some things we’ve done in the past to keep our team out of the elements as much as possible.

“Our guys dress for the weather, but we really can’t keep our team exposed to the elements when the temperature is this low,” explains COO Bryan vonHahmann. “And when it’s cold, it’s hard to dig, so we’ve had to slow down on that.” A lot of the outdoor bog reno work gets postponed for the moment, as well as the sanding operation. (While we have tried ice sanding in the past, the weather can actually get too cold to even attempt it; low temperatures not only affect the team, but the equipment as well.)

To that end, our team has kept busy by working indoors as much as possible. Some build signs for our property borders, some work on box repairs, and still others assemble sprinklers for the current acreage under renovation as well as repairing old sprinklers: replacing worn out nozzles, springs, and sprinkler heads.

Depending on the day to day forecast, though, some outdoor work is usually possible. “When the wind’s not blowing and the sun is out, we’re able to send a team out to work on the survey lines,” says Bryan. “They’re protected a bit by the trees, so they’re able to go out and post the signs that have been built already.” And when it’s warm enough to run equipment, the team will keep busy disassembling the old wooden gates we’ve recently replaced.

Our team is still doing whatever it takes…but they’re making sure to keep safe and keep warm at the same time!

Land management: prescribed burning

It’s the burning season again in the Pine Barrens! While that might sound frightening, it just means it’s time to start doing some needed forest maintenance via prescribed burning.

Per the New Jersey Forest Fire Service:

The primary purpose of prescribed burning in New Jersey is to reduce the hazardous accumulations of forest fuels. This aids in the prevention of wildfires, reduces the intensity of the fires, and also provides a foundation for safer, more effective fire suppression and protection operations.

Pine Island has been a long-time proponent of this method and works closely with the fire service and our forester when it comes to this crucial method of forest maintenance. “Pine Island has a very long history of using prescribed burns to protect life and property on their land as well as the surrounding area,” says Bob Williams of Pine Creek Forestry. “In addition, it is used to sustain or enhance the overall ecological health of their forest. Fire is a critical component of sustaining this forest and used often in the farm’s forest management program. These forests need fire; it is as essential as rain or sunshine to the life of the forest. Native Americans used fire to sustain this forest as well as most forests across North America for millennia, and many plants and animals need fire to provide critical habitat components in their lives.” He understands the concern, but reassures people that all is well: “Weather permitting, people will see many smoke columns rising from the pinelands area in the coming weeks with no cause for alarm.”

With constant communication, our motivated team, and the able assistance of neighboring growers and fire experts, Pine Island is more than ready to keep up the the constant endeavor of caring for the place where we live, work, and grow!

Bog renovation – winter 2020

While the rest of our team is hard at work on our usual winter tasks such as sanding, our bog renovation team is also keeping busy!

Bog renovation is a time-consuming and capital-intensive but necessary project that will increase both yield and quality by improving bog and irrigation design. Effective bed drainage is critical, especially in New Jersey, where the humid climate can provide a favorable environment for Phytophthora cinnamomi, a known cause of root rot. Other improvements to the water system will include new gates, rebuilt ditches, and relocation of pumps, if necessary. As part of our irrigation redesign, and with the redesign of some of the beds, it’s sometimes necessary to make some changes in order to maximize water flow to the pump. Relocation of the pump houses is also helpful for improved access, both for refueling and repairs.

“We’re moving along with this year’s acreage,” says bog renovation manager Steve Manning. “We’re working on Panama and Bell out at Sim Place and Red Road on the home farm. The sand’s in at Panama, we’re starting to put the sand in at Bell, and Red Road is up next.”

One of our biggest projects, however, is just getting started.

A couple of years ago, Pine Island bought back some of the acreage known as Birches, originally purchased by our founder, Martin L. Haines, in the late 19th century. Our team did some dry harvesting as an experiment in fall 2018, and now our focus has turned to upgrades! We’ve removed some structures that were declared unsafe (the original packing house remains and won’t be going anywhere!) and our bog renovation team has started work on the beds.

“We were just over there today figuring out our plan of attack,” Steve says. “The water’s off, the old vines have been burned, and now we’re pushing them off and starting to pile them to the side before we take the next step.”

That’s just the beginning! We’re going to document every step of the process of bringing the original Haines family land to maximum production and efficiency.

Welcome to Lindsay Wells-Hansen!

Ocean Spray scientist Dan Schiffhauer retired at the end of 2019, and the cranberry community is very pleased to welcome his successor, Lindsay Wells-Hansen! Lindsey, a south Jersey native who earned her undergrad degree at Temple University, comes back home to us from the cranberry community in Wisconsin (where she earned her Ph.D at the University of Wisconsin) and we’re very happy to have her. She’s been making the rounds to meet all of the local growers, and this week was able to sit down at Pine Island with Bill Haines, Mike Haines, and Bryan vonHahmann to talk about our needs for the growing season.

“I think what I’m enjoying most so far about being back in New Jersey is being so close to family again,” Lindsay says. “My husband and I certainly miss our friends and family in Wisconsin, but having the opportunity to be near my side of the family while working in a field that I love is really special. I’m also super excited to be back in the Pine Barrens; I’m a true ‘piney’ at heart, and I absolutely love hiking in and exploring the unique landscape that the Pine Barrens have to offer. Oh, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t enjoying the much milder winter temperatures again!”

There are also some regional differences beyond climate! “Although my position here is similar in many ways to the one I held before, I’m experiencing the ‘usual’ challenges that come along with any career change,” Lindsay says. “Establishing new relationships with growers and other colleagues, determining the trajectory of my extension and research programs here, et cetera. One of the cool things about cranberries is that they’re grown a little bit differently in every growing region. While I’m generally familiar with the growing practices here in New Jersey, I’m more familiar with the practices in Wisconsin, so one challenge is going to be learning all of the ins-and-outs of cranberry growing in NJ. Growers have figured out what works best for them on their farm, and it’s always fun to learn why things are done a certain way on one farm or in one growing region but not another. These are all great challenges to have, and I’m very excited to get to know each of the growers, to learn from them, and to better understand their needs so that I can be as helpful as possible in the coming years.”

Linsday was also able to attend ACGA winter meeting last week, and found it enormously helpful. “Not only is the meeting a great opportunity to hear a summary of results from all of the research that was conducted over the past growing season(s), but it also provides a wonderful venue for getting to know growers better. I was pleasantly surprised at how well-attended the meeting was, and being there gave me the opportunity to meet growers that I hadn’t met before and to talk further with those that I had met. The NJ cranberry growers seem to be a very tight-knit group, and everyone has been extremely welcoming so far, which means so much to me and is certainly making the transition into my new role easier.”

One of her favorite aspects of this job is that she gets to be in the field working with growers on a daily basis in an effort to help them produce the best crop possible. “I’m really looking forward to establishing closer relationships with the growers and to getting out in the field again soon once the water comes off! I’m also very much looking forward to working closely with the researchers at Rutgers on some exciting research projects.”

Harvest time is a popular time of year for visitors, but for people who work in the industry, there’s something of interest all year round. Lindsay’s favorite time of year is during bloom: “There’s just something really serene about kneeling in the middle of a cranberry bed that’s in full bloom listening to the constant buzz of thousands of pollinators while watching them work the flowers (unless, of course, you run into some angry bees… then it’s anything but serene!). It’s an exciting time knowing that berries are soon to follow!”

On our part, Pine Island Cranberry is very happy to have a Jersey girl come back home. “We’re really excited to have Lindsay in New Jersey,” says Bill Haines. “We know that she did a great job in Wisconsin, and we’re looking forward to working with her here.”

ACGA Winter Meeting 2020

This week the American Cranberry Growers Association once again held its annual winter meeting. The ACGA winter meeting is always a good opportunity for growers to listen to research findings from experiments during the previous growing season and the researchers’ recommendations for the 2020 growing season. In addition, it’s a great chance for the local cranberry community to catch up to each other after the busy harvest season.

Matt Giberson was particularly interested in Dr. Nick Vorsa’s talk on hybrids: “I thought the cross breeding with the hybrid varieties that have the powderlike skin similar to blueberries is an interesting approach to help with fruit quality.” He also liked the presentation on machine learnin by Joe Kawash. “I also think the machine thinking process of fruit quality is something that would not just benefit Ocean Spray, but also the grower. If we had the ability to screen fruit on site to give instant results, it would be able to allow us to plan better for harvest.”

Our team was also pleased to get an update from Dr. Thierry Besançon on one of our most persistent weed issues. “It was good to get a recommendation, with data to support it, on how to better control red root,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann.

Mike Haines agrees: “I really enjoyed both talks on weed control at the meeting. I’m looking forward to trying out Thierry’s suggestions this coming growing season, because it sounds like that could be a big step in attacking our red root problem. And Katie Ghantous’ presentation was really interesting, as well. She came down from Massachusetts and talked about the growing problem of moss in cranberry bogs, and that’s something I’ve started to see here and there in New Jersey. It’s always interesting to hear different perspectives and hear what’s new in the other growing regions.”

Mike Scullion was also fascinated by the machine learning discussion. “It really sounds like a promising method for developing new varieties for the future,” he says. “And I like how he simplified the algorithm for us to better understand how it works. I’m excited to see what they come up with!”

All in all, it was another productive day for our Pine Island team as well another excellent program put together by Dr. Cesar Rodriguez-Saona. Thank you, Cesar!