Pine Island History: Black Rock

This week, harvest has progressed to the bogs behind our main office: the system called Black Rock.

CEO Bill Haines is a movie buff, and named the system Black Rock back when it was first built in the mid 70s.

Back in 2012, Black Rock suffered some damage after the region caught the edge of Hurricane Isaac.

New Jersey caught the tail end of Hurricane Isaac, who brought us over eighteen inches of rains (along with funnel clouds) and left us with an enormous amount of clean-up. . . we lost twenty dams on seven major reservoirs, irrigation main lines were damaged where dams washed out, and 50% of the farm was underwater at some point. Some bogs were only under for 24 hours, some for 48, and at Sim Place, where damage was heaviest, some of the bogs were under for almost 72 hours.

In 2015, Black Rock became the next set of beds to undergo renovation, where we experimented with some new forms of erosion control and some changes to our sanding process. They were planted with Mullica Queens in the fall of 2015, which means they’re just about up to full production!

It’s been an eventful few years for Black Rock, but things are looking good!

A visit from DC

In October 2014, Pine Island had a visit from Senator Cory Booker; during that same week, our neighbors at Lee Brothers received a visit from Senator Robert Menendez. This week, a group of New Jersey cranberry growers welcomed Senator Menendez’s aide Rob Childers, who had been unable to make it the last time and has been wanting to come see us ever since!

Rob’s afternoon in cranberry country started with a video at the Lees before moving on to Pine Island, where we immediately put him to work! He was able to see both the reel harvesters and the newer Gates Harrow in action, as well as the entire gathering procedure from start to finish.

After that, he stopped by the Marucci Center for a chat with director Nick Vorsa and a tour of the greenhouses.

The final stop was a tour of the Ocean Spray receiving station.

“We would like to thank Rob on behalf of Rutgers, Ocean Spray, and the Cutts, Haines, and Lee families for making the personal effort to visit with us during cranberry harvest,” says grower Steve Lee III. “We hope the visit gave him a new perspective on the cranberry industry in the NJ Pinelands and the nationwide importance of the unique agricultural research that is conducted here.”

*Some photos provided by Steve Lee III.

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!

The 2019 harvest begins!

Our busiest season has finally begun! Our harvest crews started picking at the southern end of the home farm and out at Sim Place this week.

“We started out at High Bridge because those are now the oldest beds planted with early-season varieties,” says CEO Bill Haines. “These bogs in particular are planted with Crimson Queen, which are our earliest variety. We like to plant those furthest from the center of the farm. As we finish picking beds we’re working our way closer and closer to home. It means we don’t have to travel as much for frost, among other things.” Conditions have been pretty favorable as well, he says. “The water level is good. And it hasn’t been too hot, either. We even had frost last night, which will help us with color.”

As of right now, we’re only running two crews, but expect that to change shortly. “We’re also picking the young bed at Osborne Spung for first time, which have been planted in Mullica Queen,” Bill says. “This will be our first significant harvest for that particular variety.”

Our team has had to make some adjustments to their approach, as they do every year. “Some of the regulations have changed with Ocean Spray on rot percentage and color,” says manager Matt Giberson. “Which means we need to keep an eye on things. When you’re driving by a bed it looks red enough on top but under the canopy it’s white, so we have to manage that. And rot tends to be high in the young beds before a canopy is fully established, so we’re testing samples before it goes to Ocean Spray. If the numbers aren’t great, we’re taking it to our own packing house and clearing it out before we send it up the road.” Matt also notes the optimal conditions this week. “We have plenty of water, but it has been a little dry. We’re starting wells now in order to be prepared in case it remains dry; we haven’t needed to in a long time so it’s good to have them ready anyhow.”

In general, the color is looking really good this year, he says. “Better than it was at this time last year. The TAcy seems really good for the Crimsons. We’re starting our third crew this weekend. The lake’s done, we’ll have Panama done Tuesday, then we’ll finish getting the early stuff from Sim Place. We’ll get the Ben Lears out, go down through Worth Tract, and pick all the young beds.”

If Matt had just one wish for the upcoming season? “We could use just a half inch of rain. Just a little bit! But I think it’s going to be steady as she goes. We got frost a little early this year, but that should help with the color. When we don’t have to chase the color, it all goes a little bit easier.”

Pine Island History: Bog names

While Ocean Spray knows our bogs by number for record-keeping purposes, our team at Pine Island mostly knows them by their names. We’ve mentioned some of them in passing, particularly with our posts on bog renovation, but with one minor exception, we haven’t gone into much detail about the story behind them.

Some bogs, of course, are named after family. There’s Billy, for CEO Bill Haines, Jr., and Holly, for his sister, who is also our previous CFO.

We also have Nadine, a set of five high-production bogs built in the late 80s in a former blueberry field and named for Bill’s wife. Not too far from our office are Stef, Becky, and Tug (also known as the SBT bogs), named after Bill’s three oldest children. We can’t speak for Bill and Holly and their own namesakes, but this blogger can reliably report that every year at harvest time, Stef, Becca, and Tug have a (mostly) friendly rivalry over whose bog is the highest producer. (Nadine stays out of it entirely, as she always wins!)

We also have bogs named for former team members and residents. The best recognized is probably Fred Brown, a section consisting of four bogs located near Brown’s former home on the property. Fred is, of course, most well-known to readers of The Pine Barrens, by John McPhee, and was a highly colorful character, to put it mildly. From the first chapter:

“I don’t know what’s the matter with me, but there’s got to be something the matter with me, because drink don’t agree with me anymore,” he said. He had a raw onion in one hand, and while he talked heshaved slices from the onion and ate them between bites of the chop. He was a muscular and well-built man, with short, bristly white hair, and he had bright, fast-moving eyes in a wide-open face. His legs were trim and strong, with large muscles in the calves. I guessed that he was about sixty, and for a man of sixty he seemed to be in remarkably good shape. He was actually seventy-nine. “My rule is: Never eat except when you’re hungry,” he said, and he ate another slice of the onion.

It’s not possible to improve on McPhee’s prose; if you haven’t read The Pine Barrens yet, it’s a fantastic book. You’ll come away from it wondering why the only thing we named after Fred is a cranberry bog. But cranberries are a perennial fruit; much like McPhee’s evocative writing, those vines will still be here as a memorial and a testament to our own history as well as that of the pines and its residents.

Harvest equipment prep

Harvest is starting soon, and we are always looking for ways to improve the process!

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. In practice, this meant changing the 6 inch pump to an 8 inch one, as well as asking them to build it a little higher to make it easier for our trailers; a few small changes, and some significant ones. But they provided us with great service, and came out themselves to help set everything up.”

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 new 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.

Testing the new machine on a young bog was useful for a couple of reasons. Young beds have yet to develop a dense canopy, and while they often yield fruit, a high percentage of that fruit contains rot. This makes them a good place to test run new equipment immediately pre-harvest. “We may well need to use the packing house platform for beds with high amounts of rot,” says Matt Giberson, “but we’re obviously hoping those will be few and far between!”

Harvest prep – 2019

Harvest is only about a month away, and our team is making sure we’re more than ready!

We’re 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 beforehand.

The ditches surrounding every bog must be kept free of debris in order to ensure adequate water flow for both flooding and drainage. Cleaning the ditches is important for two reasons. First, it helps maintain the proper moisture level in the soil. Second, and most importantly, removing water from the bogs quickly is urgent in case of a big rain event.

It is 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.

“We’ve done everything we can at this point and hoping for the best,” says CEO Bill Haines. “Talk to me again in November and I’ll let you know how we made out!”

Planting – Summer 2019

There are two methods of planting: conventional propagation, which means pressing mowed vines or prunings directly into the bogs to be established; and rooted cuttings, which means planting plants with roots already established. Pine Island has used both methods in the past, but mainly we’ve moved on to using rooted cuttings. Another concern with planting 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. Pine Island uses both ditches and sprinklers for irrigation. During the early spring, after the winter flood is removed, irrigation is usually covered by our frost protection program. However, concerns for adequate soil moisture should not be forgotten during frost season. Several warm, sunny days without rain or frost irrigation can result in the need for irrigation. Checking the soil yourself is extremely important; tensiometers are good, but it’s important to learn the hands-on method, as well.

The process remains 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.

“We target to start planting in early spring to provide more time in the growing season,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann. “With the amount we plant and the logistics of renovation and the significant draw on resources, we usually have two to three planting periods: early spring, early summer, and mid to late summer to get the yearly renovation planted. These periods coincide with very busy times on the farm, so we work hard to balance all resources.”

This year, as expected, we planted about 50 acres; some with Mullica Queen and some with Haines, both of which have been yielding good results for us.

ACGA Summer Field Day – 2019

This week several Pine Island Cranberry team members attended the annual American Cranberry Growers Association (ACGA) summer field day at the Rutgers extension center. While several topics are similar to those discussed at the winter meeting, the field day is a chance to go out and explore the researchers’ valuable work first hand!

Jeremy Fenstermaker:

It was nice catching up with everybody, as always! I enjoyed the talk about the winter flooding; that was interesting. The sanding experiment was something I’ve been thinking about for a while, so it was nice seeing the results of that.

Justin Ross:

I think there are some really neat things coming soon with the use of gene sequencing. Hopefully we will see this speed up the development of of new varieties. James and Nick are doing great work.

Altogether, another successful field day! Thank you to the entire staff at the Marucci Center for all of your hard work in putting it together.

Vendors: Legacy Advisors

This entry was originally posted on August 12, 2016.

This week, a brief look at one of our favorite vendors: Legacy Advisors!

Legacy Advisors, located in Plymouth Meeting, PA, has been helping Pine Island with our financial planning for over a decade. From the Legacy website:

We believe helping our clients focus on everything that is important to them and establishing specific objectives which must be accomplished differentiates us from other advisors. The ability to ask the right questions and listen is a lost art today.

Through a series of open, in-depth discussions, we help our clients focus on what’s most important to them, their family and their business. The true art of our business is in asking the right questions to guide and compel our clients to evaluate their priorities. Through thoughtful listening, we get to the core of their beliefs, business goals and personal wishes.

Once objectives have been established, we work with our client’s trusted team of advisors to make certain that every aspect of their plan is implemented, properly communicated and kept up to date.

John Krol and his team do all that for us, and more. He and his team also share Pine Island’s belief in giving back to the community, and their foundation has worked over the past several years to benefit such organizations as the Children’s Scholarship Fund, La Comunidad Hispana, the Garage Community & Youth Center, and many more.

The quality of life in our region is important to everyone who lives and works here. The Legacy Foundation is our way of giving back to the communities we so proudly serve, so that we may do our part to improve the lives of those who need it most.

Established in 2003, The Legacy Foundation is a non-profit organization that provides support for children and adults who, through no cause of their own, are socially, mentally, or physically deprived.

It’s really the personal touch that makes working with Legacy such a wonderful experience, and John’s strong background and familiarity with family businesses make Legacy an excellent choice. He spent many years working with a family-owned manufacturing business as CFO as well as their VP of International Business, which gives him a strong sense of understanding for family and financial issues when designing an optimal financial plan for business owners today.

“I’ve worked with John for almost sixteen years now,” says Pine Island CEO/Owner Bill Haines. “I was concerned with business succession and estate planning, and his advice has been tremendously helpful. I feel much more comfortable with where we are both personally and as a company, thanks to his efforts.” And it’s not just John; the personal commitment to excellence goes from the top down. His whole team is great to work with, at every level that we deal with them; they’re always helpful, always professional, and always get stuff done. “John has become a trusted advisor on more than estate planning and business succession,” Bill says. “He sits on our Board of Advisors and his advice is always insightful, helpful, and welcome. He’s become more than an advisor, he’s a friend.

“If anyone feels they need advice in estate planning, business succession, general finance, or any business issue, I never hesitate to recommend Legacy.”