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!”

Cleaning line!

This entry was originally posted on September 8, 2017, with a follow-up on October 6, 2017.

Last week we talked about how our team was prepping for harvest, including some equipment modifications. This week, we take a look at the changes to our cleaning facility! Up until now, our cleaning line at the packing house removes trash, debris, leaves, and so forth; however, it does not remove rotten fruit. But our Facilities team is hard at work on upgrades.

“With the standards changing in fruit quality, Ocean Spray is starting to dock growers for any rot amount greater than 20%, and we get charged the cleaning fee,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann. “If the rot percentage goes over 40%, they won’t even take it. We already know that that in the early years in our young beds, it’s easy to get a lot of rot because the canopy isn’t well developed. But we still get some good fruit from them. So what we decided to do was get an analysis on the good fruit from those young beds and see what they were worth. Once we did the math, we found it was a relatively short payback for us to put in brush washers to push the rotten fruit out. The blowers on the line take the leaves off and dry the fruit some, but rot still goes into the trailer. Our bog side cleaners are a definite improvement on that but even those can’t handle the high rot beds. So we modified our current facility to put in a four-roller brush system in.”

“Our goal is to keep the rot percentage as low as possible,” Bryan says. “In a bed with 25% rot, for example, we’d hope to remove 10%. If we have a bed that’s at 45, we can knock 20% out; we’d need to pay the fee but still send out the good crop. Now that we’re renovating so heavily it’s worth the investment.”

“We’re working hard to have it ready,” says manager Louis Cantafio. “The equipment arrived the second week of August, but we tried to get all the prep work done ahead of that. It’s all the same stuff they’re running up at the receiving station; so we didn’t really need to build anything new. Bryan did the research and ordered the equipment; my team found some equipment we could purchase used and save some money on the project. We started ordering materials so we could be ready to go when the equipment arrived, and we’ve been going gangbusters ever since!”

“The fruit goes through the line as usual, but then it goes into the table so that it can be spread into one layer and move through the cleaner,” explains Facilities supervisor Mike Guest. “If the berries are packed too close together it won’t work. All the rest of the work on the line are just to accommodate these additions.”

The new line will be done in plenty of time for the harvest, and we’re all looking forward to the results!

New cleaning line

Last week we talked about how our team was prepping for harvest, including some equipment modifications. This week, we take a look at the changes to our cleaning facility! Up until now, our cleaning line at the packing house removes trash, debris, leaves, and so forth; however, it does not remove rotten fruit. But our Facilities team is hard at work on upgrades.

“With the standards changing in fruit quality, Ocean Spray is starting to dock growers for any rot amount greater than 20%, and we get charged the cleaning fee,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann. “If the rot percentage goes over 40%, they won’t even take it. We already know that that in the early years in our young beds, it’s easy to get a lot of rot because the canopy isn’t well developed. But we still get some good fruit from them. So what we decided to do was get an analysis on the good fruit from those young beds and see what they were worth. Once we did the math, we found it was a relatively short payback for us to put in brush washers to push the rotten fruit out. The blowers on the line take the leaves off and dry the fruit some, but rot still goes into the trailer. Our bog side cleaners are a definite improvement on that but even those can’t handle the high rot beds. So we modified our current facility to put in a four-roller brush system in.”

“Our goal is to keep the rot percentage as low as possible,” Bryan says. “In a bed with 25% rot, for example, we’d hope to remove 10%. If we have a bed that’s at 45, we can knock 20% out; we’d need to pay the fee but still send out the good crop. Now that we’re renovating so heavily it’s worth the investment.”

“We’re working hard to have it ready,” says manager Louis Cantafio. “The equipment arrived the second week of August, but we tried to get all the prep work done ahead of that. It’s all the same stuff they’re running up at the receiving station; so we didn’t really need to build anything new. Bryan did the research and ordered the equipment; my team found some equipment we could purchase used and save some money on the project. We started ordering materials so we could be ready to go when the equipment arrived, and we’ve been going gangbusters ever since!”

“The fruit goes through the line as usual, but then it goes into the table so that it can be spread into one layer and move through the cleaner,” explains Facilities supervisor Mike Guest. “If the berries are packed too close together it won’t work. All the rest of the work on the line are just to accommodate these additions.”

The new line will be done in plenty of time for the harvest, and we’re all looking forward to the results!

Harvest prep – 2017

Harvest is less than three weeks away, and our team is making sure we’re more than ready!

“It’s coming and it’s coming up fast,” says CEO Bill Haines. “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.”

All of the equipment has to be ready, as well! We have no brand-new equipment for this harvest, but there’s still plenty to be done. “We’re putting in a new cleaning line for the bogs where quality is an issue,” Bill says. “That’s a big project.”

There are some other considerations this year, as well. “Because we late-held so many bogs to take advantage of the Ocean Spray program, we’re not picking as many acres this year. That’s taking a little of the pressure off,” Bill says. “The good news is, we had plenty of water this growing season, so we’re not worried going into the season about running the wells a lot. We can handle whatever comes, of course, but the more water we have here in the reservoirs the easier it is.” With fewer acres to pick due to the late-holds as well as our ongoing renovation projects, we’re also only running two picking crews this year. The majority will be picked with the Gates Harrow, though a limited number of older bogs will still be harvested using the reel method.

“So far the berry quality and size looks good,” Bill says. “It can go south late in season; it did last year, so we’re just watching for that. We’ve done everything we can at this point and hoping for the best. Talk to me again in November and I’ll let you know how we made out!”

Bogside cleaner testing

Harvest is starting soon, and as we discussed last week, we took delivery on a second bogside cleaner for use in the upcoming season!

Last year, we began using this new equipment to help improve efficiency. During the harvest, berries are placed on a truck via an elevator. The truck then goes 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 improves 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.

“It’s been 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 last year.”

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, succinctly: “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 harvest last year to remove vines and trash. But it became more labor intensive than it was worth.” So for the 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. The combo of the new spray boom and an additional cleaning grate should provide better quality fruit for the trailer to take directly to the Chatsworth receiving station.

Testing the new machine on a young bog will be 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 design changes,” says Bryan, “but we’re looking forward to trying it and see how the new design works. The more fruit that goes in, the less water goes in. We’re going to run the older one on two bogs and bring the new one out for a third bog. We’re trying a modified 5 grate cleaning box with wider spacing on the teeth on one bog, and the standard 5 grate on the other to see if it makes any difference. In young beds you’re going to get a lot of rot and vines; it’s just the nature of the beast. But we’re hoping the wider tines will help push those through.”

Harvest prep – 2016

Harvest is getting closer every day, and our team is working steadily to make sure everything is ready!

“Everything now becomes more critical because we have the pre-harvest interval that we need to be sensitive to,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann. “We also apply fertilizer this time of year, which helps the plants through the winter. Those are the big things. We’re going through and looking at the sequence for TAcy, for what beds we expect to pick first. We want to take advantage of the higher TAcy levels.” Some varieties color earlier than others, and that is a factor we consider when planning our picking 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.

“Equipment is also a big part of prep,” Bryan says, “so we’re designing new stuff for equipment to make us a little more efficient, and we’re looking forward to experimenting with that.” To that end, manager Louis Cantafio walked us a through a little bit of what the Facilties/Equipment team has been working on.

“Most of the equipment that we already own has already been serviced and put away ready to go,” he says. “We knew we were going to be jammed up late in the summer and coming into harvest to do the regular maintenance work, so a lot of it’s done.” Many of the projects the team has in the pipeline are also harvest-related, however. “We’re fabricating a lot of new equipment we didn’t have before, and modifying a lot of equipment we got last season. So we’re making improvements to the berry pump, which is a lot of work! We also have a new trash truck design, so we’re working on the ones we have already as well as building a fourth.”

The biggest modification is going to be for the gathering crew. Gathering is always a teamwork-intensive task: when it’s time to put the boom in, you need at least one person in the water as well as on the tractor, and sometimes more depending on the bog layout (trees, heavy grasses, etc.). Each end of the boom is then attached to a tractor, which slowly moves along the dam, corralling the berries. Some members of the gathering crew follow alongside, “sweeping” the berries and making sure they stay within bounds. Once that is done, both ends of the boom are connected to the boom reel, which is wound ever tighter as the berries are brought up the elevator onto the truck. This year, though, our team is making some changes: “We have two blueberry tractors we’re customizing for this,” Louis says. “With the current system we have a blower on the back of the tractor, which means someone has to drive the tractor, someone else works the blower nozzle, and when the berries are really thick and the grass is thick on the edge of the dam, we have the guys sweeping. That’s a lot of manpower. But we’re modifying these tractors with really high powered blowers; much higher than we have already. On the front will the hookup for the boom, and a single operator should be able to run one end of it. This means two guys should be able to boom up a bog on their own, whereas as before it was easily eight.” The idea, he says, is to have the driver hydraulically operate the boom so that when he comes up to a pipe gate or a corner, he can run it out from the cab and will no longer need to rely on extra crew to change it manually. “We’ll have one guy doing the work of four or five,” Louis says. “We’re not only going from eight to ten guys down to two, but they should be able to do it faster; they’ll be in the tractor instead of muscling hose/boom around edge of dam. It will improve safety and efficiency.”

As for the rest of the Pine Island team? “We’re doing everything we can to keep the fruit healthy until harvest!” says Bryan.

Getting ready!

Autumn will be here quicker than we think, and to that end, our team is working hard preparing for the upcoming harvest!

Bog Renovations Manager Steve Manning is getting ready to start planting next week. “I have the guys out there right just touching up some stuff,” he says. “We’re land-leveling at the Warehouse reno and we’re fixing all the ditches. We also still have some sprinklers to install, which has to be finished before we put the plants in.” He has also followed up with his research into erosion control. “There’s a team at Black Rock putting in coconut mat all along the edges to act as erosion control, so hopefully it doesn’t wash out. Even if it only works about seventy percent of the time it should make a huge difference. There’s nothing more disheartening than getting something fixed just before a storm comes along and tears things up.”

Our much-missed seasonal team is also beginning to arrive, and have started performing other prep tasks such as weed control, while our equipment team is making sure all of the harvest equipment is in good shape! “A lot of minor repairs, mainly,” says Louis [Cantafio]. “Most of what we’re doing is preventative maintenance. During the season we’re always running hard, so everything gets oil changes, new plugs, and anything else they need for a standard tune-up. And we’re ordering parts in because things are going to break and we need to have them back up and running right away.”