The second full week of harvest is going well and our crews are hitting their groove!

One of the bogs our team picked this week is called Warehouse. Warehouse is one of our younger bogs, which was renovated in 2015 and planted with the then-brand new Haines variety. Our team has been very pleased with the results from this variety, which so far has yielded high quality fruit: very firm with excellent color.

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!

This week, driver Tug Haines looked at the amount of fruit at Warehouse as the gathering crew set up the boom and estimated that we might haul as many as nine truckloads to the receiving station. It turned out to be that much and then some: eleven trailer loads heading to Chatsworth from one 9.3 acre bog, for a yield of 493 barrels per acre. Not a bad start!

Harvest’s beginning – 2020

It’s once again everyone’s favorite time of year: Pine Island’s cranberry harvest is officially underway!

Our team isn’t going full speed ahead just yet. “We’re starting the same as every year, with a focus on taking the early varieties such as Crimson Queen as well as the young beds,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann. “We started off with three crews, but went down to two for now. It hasn’t settled into a groove yet; the color was later this year than expected, and as usual, we’re playing the balance game with color, rot, and water flow.”

As our team continues to renovate older beds to improve drainage and yield, we’ve been relying more and more on the Gates Harrow to knock the berries from the vines. 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. And, of course, we’ve made some upgrades to the harrow over the summer that should make the process more efficient!

“Getting started has been stressful but getting better,” says operations manager Matt Giberson. “The quality looks great and the color looks great.”

Vendors: Allen’s Oil

Originally posted on January 13, 2017.

Our team is still working on sanding and all of the other usual winter tasks, so this week, we’re bringing you a quick look at one of our favorite vendors: Allen’s Oil!

Allen’s Oil keeps our irrigation systems running!

Allen’s, a fourth-generation family business in Vincentown, has been Pine Island’s diesel vendor since 2013. From their website:

In the 1940s, Harry T. Allen, Sr. and his son Harry T., Jr. started to deliver home heating oil along with coal. In 1964, the business was passed along to Harry, Jr. In 1977, Harry’s sons, Ronald L. Allen and Roger P. Allen, purchased the company where Ronald served as the third generation company president while his brother, Roger, was vice president.

With Ronald’s dedication, the business continued to grow. In 1991, Ronald decided to add a full-service propane division, at which time the name went from Allen’s Oil to Allen’s Oil and Propane, Inc. As the propane division grew, it was time to expand. In 1994, the Hammonton, NJ office and storage facility was opened with the ability to store 205,000 gallons of propane. Since that time, Allen’s has opened two more storage facilities: one in Elmer, NJ (2005) which has 108,000 gallons of propane storage and another in Southampton, NJ (2008) which has 120,000 gallons of storage.

In June 2001, Ronald purchased Roger’s share of the company. Keeping with the family tradition, Ronald now runs the company with his wife, Sandra, and their two sons Douglas and Jason. As of today, Allen’s Oil & Propane Inc. has a customer base of over 10,000 customers and continues to grow every day.

“I came in to meet with Bill,” says owner Ron Allen, “and he was completely straight with me. I asked him what he was paying, told him what I could offer, and he said, it’s a deal.” It’s a tough business to be in these days, Ron says, but “it takes people from both sides to make it work, and Pine Island is always there to support us.”

And we’re glad to support them, according to CEO Bill Haines: “Allen’s Oil is the kind of vendor we like,” he says. “They’re totally dependable and totally reliable. Which means that we not only don’t have to worry about whether they’re going to be here and do what they say, we don’t even have to think about it; we can just count on it.”

Harvest prep – 2020

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

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

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

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

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

Planting: Red Road

Our team finished the summer planting at Red Road last week!

Pine Island used rooted cuttings, which means planting plants with roots already established. One of our concerns prior to getting the plants in is implementing an irrigation program (both with ground water and sprinklers) that provides moisture for vine growth without causing excessive soil saturation, which can lead to favorable conditions for phytopthora, which in turn can lead to fruit or root rot.

Our renovated acreage at Red Road has been planted with the Haines variety, which has been yielding good results for us. “We put in about 15 acres this time,” says manager Mike Haines. “We’ve already planted like 50 acres of Haines over there, so it’s nice that it’ll all be uniform. We can treat it all the same way and harvest it all together around mid-season, as it’s Haines is a mid season ripening variety.”

The planting process is always the same: rooted cuttings are taken from the cart and loaded onto the planter. Team members seated on the planter drop the vines into the carousel and then the vines are distributed into the pre-dug furrow. The planter is followed by other crew members, who make sure that the vines have been placed correctly. Running the planting operation is a true challenge: coordinating everything, getting the right plants at the right time with the right people, constantly adjusting the planters, and identifying problems and how to fix them.

Our team had discussed the possibility of using our new GPS system for planting, but ultimately decided against it. “The tractor didn’t have enough horsepower for the poly puller,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann.

The bogs will take about four years to reach full production, and we anticipate another excellent result!

ACGA Summer Field Day 2020

This week the American Cranberry Growers Association (ACGA) held its annual summer meeting to hear updates from the Rutgers P.E. Marucci Center on current projects. Normally field day is a chance to go out and explore the researchers’ valuable work first hand, but this year, things were a little different.

“Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, this year we could not have our regular in-person meeting,” says Dr. Cesar Rodriguez-Saona. “Instead, the meeting was held virtually, and the agenda had a ‘hybrid’ format with scientists from the Marucci Center and USDA-ARS presenting updates on their work during the first hour and a Q&A session during the second hour.”

As a result, it was a much briefer program, but the presenters were able to convey a lot of information in that short amount of time. First the growers heard from Dr. Peter Oudemans about his ongoing research on methods for managing fruit quality and disease control, as well as the potential of using honeybees to protect cranberries against diseases. Dr. James Polashock provided an update on his research to develop resistance against fruit rot, while director Dr. Nicholi Vorsa discussed a condition of cranberries he calls “crunchy vines” and its potential causes and remedies. Cesar, of course, discussed insect pest priorities as well as future Entomology research projects. Finally, Baylee Carr (representing Dr. Thierry Besançon’s program) provided an update on current strategies for Carolina redroot and moss control.

One of the biggest draws of the ACGA meetings, besides research updates, is the opportunity to catch up with fellow growers. This made the Q&A section of the meeting especially lively. “Despite having to move online, it was still a worthwhile and educational meeting for the growers,” says ACGA president Shawn Cutts. “Hearing updates on the latest research as well as having the opportunity to discuss late season issues during the Q&A was valuable.”

“Although we missed not having the regular in-person interactions and field tours typical of our summer meetings, the virtual meeting was well attended and highlighted the importance of continued communication and exchange of information between researchers and growers,” Cesar says.

“I missed visiting the Rutgers bogs but I thought it was a really good meeting,” says Pine Island CEO Bill Haines. “The presentations were clear and concise and the discussion and questions after were excellent.”

The ACGA board also thanks Lindsay Wells-Hansen for her help setting up the virtual meeting, and is, as always, hugely grateful to Cesar for organizing yet another successful gathering!

Summer tasks 2020

August is a relatively quiet month for our team, with applications finishing up and harvest is still a few weeks away. Of course, this doesn’t mean we don’t have anything to do!

The bog renovation at Red Road is just about finished, and our new production team will begin planting next week!

We’re also getting everything sharpened up on the farm right now; the team is working on both the chores that we need to get done and those that we like to get done. It’s always nice to have the farm tidy and ready before harvest begins. It’s also important to make sure all of the equipment has been properly maintained well in advance of the harvest: the boom, boom reels, harvesters, et cetera. The boom is taken out and checked for any repairs that need to be made, and so is the reel. The harvesters are brought in and serviced at our shop. We also look over and repair as needed the blowers, trucks, and tractors for each harvesting crew and ensure we have all the tools and safety supplies necessary to get us through harvest.

Most importantly, our team needs to make sure the fruit stays cool! When humidity is low, applied water will readily evaporate and cool the fruit. During the day, if temperatures get up to around 95 degrees, we will turn on the irrigation in order to cool the bog down to the 80s. We’ll run the pumps for about an hour or two, depending on variables such as wind, temperature, and humidity. There is also a distinct difference between sending water through the root system and keeping the bog cool. The trick is avoiding complications from too much moisture, which can cause conditions that are welcoming to fungi such as phytophthora, which causes root rot.

Tropical Storm Isaias

If there is one consistent thing about farming, it’s the inconsistency of any kind of weather event!

In 2011, a storm with straight line winds blew through and took the roof off our shop. In 2012, we caught the edge of Isaac, got 20 inches of rain and had vast amounts of acreage underwater. Later that same year, we hardly took any damage from Sandy, with the exception of some downed trees in the middle of a swamp. Last month saw some heavy rain with the arrival of Tropical Storm Fay. But when Isaias arrived this week, we got less than an inch of rain, though we lost several trees and, of course, lost power, along with the rest of the region.

The good news is that our team can handle a lot without electricity; our pumps and irrigation run on fuel, for example. And, of course, they always make sure to prepare as much as they can ahead of time, making sure the reservoirs and canals are at a good level, looking over the lift pumps, making sure the generators are ready to go if necessary, and keeping as many people working indoors as they can.

We got incredibly lucky this time. Our power back back up within 24 hours, we had no building damage, and the small amount of rain meant we didn’t see much dam erosion, if any. But recent history shows that we can’t always count on that. What we do know is that we can always count on our team to be ready for whatever happens in the future.

Equipment upgrades

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

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

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

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

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

Ocean Spray: Tom Hayes

Some good news from Massachusetts: Ocean Spray announced this week that its Board of Directors has unanimously elected Tom Hayes as the cooperative’s next president and chief executive officer.

photo courtesy of Ocean Spray Cranberries.

From the press release:

Hayes is the former president and CEO of Tyson Foods, the largest food company in the U.S. with $40 billion in sales and 122,000 employees…

“Ocean Spray is a unique company – one that asks its leaders to speak the language of consumers, farmers, grocers, bankers, manufacturers and employees all at once. In Tom Hayes, we believe we have found a leader who can speak to all of these audiences and continue the transformation of this cooperative,” said Peter Dhillon, chairman of the Ocean Spray Board of Directors. “Tom’s expertise in supply chain management, his understanding of agriculture and the challenges faced by growers, and his decades of experience in the consumer packaged goods industry make him ideally suited to lead Ocean Spray into its second century. We are thrilled to welcome Tom on board.”

“For everyone who grew up in New England, the Ocean Spray name is not just a global brand – it’s part of our culture. The heritage of the company and its 700 farmer owners is one to be celebrated and shared across the world, and I want to ensure it is protected and positioned to grow for a long time to come,” said Hayes. “Joining Ocean Spray at such a pivotal moment, as it approaches its centennial, presents an extraordinary opportunity to look toward the future, tackle new challenges, and ensure that this cooperative will succeed for another hundred years.”

A native of southern New Hampshire, Hayes earned a BA from the University of New Hampshire and an MBA from Northwestern University. Prior to leading Tyson, Hayes was the Chief Supply Chain Officer at Hillshire Brands and Sara Lee. He has also held significant leadership roles at US Foods, ConAgra, and Kraft. Most recently, Hayes served as a partner at Entrepreneurial Equity Partners (e2p), a private equity firm that invests in middle market companies in the food industry.

Pine Island CEO Bill Haines was a member of the Board’s search committee and is very happy with the decision: “As a farmer-owner, I’m really excited to have Tom Hayes come on board to lead Ocean Spray,” he says. “The team has done a great job through the crisis of the last four months, and we’re looking forward to even bigger and better things now that Tom is on board. I think that he’s exactly the kind of leader that our farmer cooperative needs.”

Welcome to the co-op, Tom!

*Photo courtesy of Ocean Spray.