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!

ACGA Winter Meeting 2019

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 2019 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.

Pine Island sent a big crew this year, and they all came away pleased with the experience. CEO Bill Haines thought this year was particularly good, and as always, enjoyed the the chance to sit down and chat with fellow growers at lunch. ““You can get as much from just having a conversation over lunch as you can from the presentation,” he says.

The rest of the team were equally glad they attended. “It was good to know about some regulatory changes that are coming up,” says Justin Ross. “Knowing what will and won’t be available now will help us plan things better for later.”

“I thought Thierry’s research with the effectiveness of of some treatments on red root was interesting,” says Matt Giberson. “I think more testing should be done on the timing of the application that would be most effective, though. Very interested to know more about how we can kill that swan loving devil weed.” One other side note he thought was interesting: how some treatments seem to greatly reduce yield when applied early in berry development. “From talking to Peter, it seems that it causes phytotoxicity to the flower making it less likely to produce fruit, hence the cause of pin fruit development.”

Newer team member Mike Scullion says, “I enjoyed learning about the management of red root in our bogs as that is an ongoing issue we are dealing with on our farm. My favorite part of the meeting, as always, is learning about the new varieties Nick Vorsa is working on. They are getting closer and closer to producing a strain of cranberry that not only has a higher resistance to fruit rot, but still has a higher yield.”

“I found Nakorn’s presentation really interesting,” says Mike Haines. “We know that we don’t want blunt-nosed leafhopper in the bogs, as they spread false blossom disease, but it was interesting to hear his hypotheses and thoughts on why this interaction occurs, like how the leafhoppers that feed on diseased plants end up being larger adults, and that nutrient levels are actually higher in infected plants.”

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!

Spring Targets – 2017

The weather today is perfect for a blog update on our targets for this spring!

. . . Well, it’s giving us something to look forward to, anyway. Our team is currently finishing up their winter tasks and preparing for the growing season, and so far, things are going well.

“We’ve already taken the water off the beds that are in either their first or second growing season,” says CEO Bill Haines. “We’ve also made good progress this winter on renovation thanks to mild weather, and are hoping to be ahead of schedule so we can begin work on the new renovation project. Sanding is on track; we’ll finish within a week, then start taking water off the established beds as well as start getting irrigation set up and removing swan strings. We’re going to continue to get the dams ready for use of the semis.”

As always, fruit rot is an ongoing concern. “Mike and his team are thinking hard and talking with the scientists at Rutgers and Ocean Spray to see what we can do to better control rot,” Bill says. “We’ve had increased rot for past couple years while standards from the market are higher and higher, so that’s important for us to work on. We’re also looking into improving our equipment; we want to prevent rot altogether, but with either additional equipment or improved equipment we can also try removing rot before delivering to Ocean Spray.” And, of course, our renovation program is expected to assist with this. “We have an entirely new system that we upgraded last year; we’re trying a different layout as well as different sprinkler heads to see if we can improve coverage. We’re also going to work on modifying one of our buggies as a prototype for doing ground coverage as part of rot control.”

“Mainly I’ve been doing a lot of prepwork,” says ICM manager Mike Haines. “Once it gets busier I’d rather not make decisions on the fly; it’s much to have stuff planned out beforehand. So I’ve been spending time with Peter [Oudemans], Dan [Schiffhauer] and Cesar [Rodriguez-Saona] as well as emailing with Joan [Davenport]. We’re mainly thinking about early season applications and putting micronutrients on, specifically copper and zinc. We’re also planning our roughneck fertilizer, which is our first application after micronutrients, basing our decisions on tissue samples, and last year’s yield. For example, everything that got sanded won’t get nitrogen; that sand layer of sand helps decomposition, which in turn increases nitrogen. One interesting thing, looking at tissue samples at Sim Place: the nitrogen levels are higher there, so we’re not making any applications during the roughneck stage. What’s neat about is that we know that the soil is different than at the home farm–it’s much sandier at the home farm–but it’s pretty cool to see that actually reflected in the numbers.”

He’s also working a plan to “culturally” attack the fruit rot issue. “This year we’re gong back to pruning some beds. The hope is that opening up the canopy will lead to a drier canopy and less fruit rot,” Mike says. “We haven’t done it in a few years, though other growers have, so we’re going back to it to see what we can find out.” Other things Mike’s team is working on: Tim Bourgeois is working on getting bees, as well as making sure we’re compliant on safety regulations; Matt Stiles is already working on young beds, replacing some plants that popped out during winter flood; Vanessa DeJesus is going through ICM supplies and making sure we have everything we needed before we kick into high gear.

And, of course, our team is doing the usual ongoing equipment maintenance as well as designing some improvements. “We experimented last year with the dry fertilizer applications on the new buggy,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann. “We learned a lot from that; we discovered it was under-powered, as well as having a few other small issues, so we’re remedying that. We’re also going to be experimenting with using it for liquid applications; it may not be the final unit that we use, but it’s going to teach us a lot. Mike’s working on the criteria for this; we’ll pick one or two systems that will use it exclusively for the entire season and see how we do.” We’re also moving ahead with the next stage of pump automation as well as thinking ahead to harvest. “There are quite a few things we need to do there,” Bryan says. “We’re going to build two more blower tractors, and we’re getting a third bog side cleaner. We’re also going to have some folks come in and talk to us about how to tweak our machinery at the loading platform to try and eliminate rot before sending fruit up to Chatsworth.”

That’s quite a list, but our team, as always, is prepared to work hard and do everything we do better every day!

Pest control: birds

Recently our team has begun looking into some new tech to solve an old problem: swans. 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 solution to keep them away from the crop. 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.

Pine Island spends a lot of money and time putting up string every year, and we wanted to find a better solution. “The main issue is getting rid of red root, and renovation helps with that, but that’s not the fastest solution,” says Matt Giberson. So they began to do some research. “We found a laser by Agrilaser that we thought might work, so we contacted them to see if we could demo a unit and they said yes.”

Once it arrived, Louis and Mike helped with the set-up, with Louis working on the power sourcing and Mike working on a plywood stand for the truck. “It’s all set up so we can just put it in the back of a truck and go,” Matt says. “Our first run was Tuesday around 10 A.M. and didn’t see any effect, so I went back to Red Road at dusk.” There weren’t any swans out there, but plenty of geese, and conditions were perfect. “I was surprised how far it goes; from Red Road I could hit the tree line at Ben Haines. I moved it all the way across the reservoir within 100 yards of the geese and they ll took off.” Matt then planned a follow-up evening out at Sim Place, but is feeling pretty confident. “If we can keep them out at night time, this thing could really save us a lot of time that we spend every year setting up and taking down string.”

There are still several tests to run, but so far things are looking great; if all goes well, our swan issue should be greatly reduced!

IPM – Drones

Last month we spoke with Dr. Peter Oudemans of Rutgers University about how our fairy ring treatment is progressing. This week, he had a team out mapping the selected treatment site with drones.

Using aerial technology to pinpoint treatment is a crucial component in integrated pest management, or IPM. What is IPM? The UC Cooperative Extension says:

“IPM is an ecosystem-based strategy that focuses on long-term prevention of pests or their damage through a combination of techniques such as biological control, habitat manipulation, modification of cultural practices, and use of resistant varieties. . . . [T]reatments are made with the goal of removing only the target organism.”

Drones can be a tremendous help with this. Per an earlier article from Robohub, “agriculture is a big data problem without the big data.” The article goes on to explain:

“Rather than taking pictures and videos of people, [drones will] be surveying fields, using their high-resolution sensors to improve crop yield and decrease agricultural water and [treatment] use. . . About half of the “inputs” in farming. . . are typically wasted because they’re applied in greater amount than needed or in the wrong place, such as the ground between plants rather than the plants themselves.”

At the Pine Island experimental site “we use two different types, a fixed-wing and a quad copter,” Peter says. “The fixed-wing is good for surveying because it can cover a large area in a short amount of time, while the quad is for more precise work.” The quad is also easier to fly. This week, however, they only flew the fixed-wing. “It took three sets of images, which will hopefully tell us more about how the fairy ring treatments are progressing.”

“They’re going to change the whole way we do things,” says CEO Bill Haines. “It’s moving us toward site specific agriculture, not just treating the whole bog.”

Harvest 2016 – Chile

This week, Pine Island once again hosted the Cranberries Austral Chile (CAC) post-harvest board meeting. CAC, located in Frutillar, Chile, was founded in 1993, and Bill has been president since 2008.

This year, CAC had their best harvest ever. “It’s the biggest crop we’ve ever had in Chile,” Bill says. “We beat our estimate by 30% and were 30% above our last record crop.” He and board member Victor Henriquez attribute the success to a number of things. “I think the weather helped,” Victor says. “With the weather so good, the bee activity was better than usual. But we’ve also made several improvements over the last year that certainly contributed.” Among them, he says, is that this year was CAC’s first use of the Gates Harrow, a machine that we’ve had great success with here at Pine Island. “We’re able to pick fruit faster and more efficiently, and it’s much better for the vines.”

Bill and Victor also attributed this year’s success to the hard work of Javier Ruiz. “Insects were a huge problem last year,” says Bill. “Javier put in a lot of effort improving the timing of fertilizer applications, irrigation, and frost management, as well as monitoring insect problems.”

Handling the pest issue was huge. The insect causing the biggest problem, Copitarsia Decolora, is a nocturnal insect, according to Javier. “We had to do a lot scouting at night to find it. This was found for the first time in November 2014, and we did some applications to control it.” The company then hired an entomologist from University La Frontera in Temuco City: Dr. Ramon Rebolledo. “He made a plan to work with us. We do the same scouting as in New Jersey, and we sent every worm and moth to him to identify them.

“In August 2015, we started to work with the UV lamp to catch the moths, started to scout bogs in September, and found the first worm in October. We also scouted to find eggs, which were found in late November and December. The eggs were kept in a small container to let them hatch, which they did in January, and this coincided with the second generation that was found in the bogs early January 2016. So we controlled those bugs and did not find any moths later. So if I am correct, we should not expect so much this year.”

Javier doesn’t think insect control alone was the sole factor, though he says it helped. “Treating for pests gave the plants good potential for this season. But this potential is not possible by itself. Frost control was very good. The weather was very exceptional during pollination, the nutrition and watering were done more according the weather than according to a calendar. Bogs got more Nitrogen than other years. There was very good weed and insect control. And the company has made very important improvements in irrigation and in drainage in the last few years, as well as better equipment and machinery. So bogs get better conditions and get what they need on time!”

So congratulations to the team at Cranberries Austral Chile for a record year! We’re proud to be affiliated with this hard-working team, and look forward to more reports as their new harvest year progresses!

Weather effects – update

We talked a couple of weeks ago about the weather this spring and the issues that could come up as a result, and this week we spoke with other growers as well as researchers to learn what kind of effects they’ve been seeing.

On our own place, things are starting to catch up. “Stuff is really starting to grow,” says manager Mike Haines. “We’re starting to see hook stage out in the bogs, which is the growth stage right before bloom. So we’ve been getting busy already.” The drawback to plant growth, he says, is that the pests grow right along with it, and some of them can be very dangerous to a crop. “The blackheaded fireworm is particularly dangerous, because they reproduce so quickly,” he says. “So even if you only see a couple, it means you have to move fast.” To that end, his team has been working diligently to scout the entire farm for various pests as well as creating a plan for handling possible infestation.

The weather’s also been an issue for the operation next door. Steve Lee III, of Lee Brothers in Speedwell, is seeing the same effect. “We were running a good week, ten days behind,” he says. “Growth kind of exploded after it cleared up; I suspect the warm weather and warm nights are helping that now.” While he’s observed another 3/4 inches of growth once things warmed up, “I don’t think you ever catch entirely back up; once you’re behind stay a little behind. It’ll probably have an effect on yield, but how much, I don’t know.”

“New Jersey cranberry beds are, in general, way behind,” says Dan Schiffhauer, an ag scientist with Ocean Spray. “Normally by this time we would be seeing a lot of hook on early varieties such as Stevens, Ben Lear, Crimson Queen, and DeMoranville, and would expect bloom to begin by early June. This year there are quite a few beds that are just beginning to show hook and bloom will probably start [about] 7 days later than normal.” He has some concerns about yield, as well: “I worry that NJ will have the type of bloom that used to occur when everyone held the water until mid-May. The resulting growth was explosive (with lots of tipworm damage) and bloom tended to be compressed. The net result was lower yields. There is nothing anyone can do about this but hope that the current very hot weather doesn’t persist.” The good news: he has yet to see any tipworm damage.

Dan also suggests that growers should watch vines carefully when the weather suddenly transitions from wet and cool to hot. “Vines that have had little to no heat or water stress can wilt suddenly if beds become too dry,” he says. “It may seem counterintuitive to water more than normal after all the rain we have had this spring but it may be required until the vines ‘normalize’ to the more common temperatures encountered in New Jersey.”

Sanding 2015

Our team has started flooding the bogs for winter, which means that our annual sanding project is now underway. Sanding is a fundamental component of our Pine Island Integrated Crop Management (PIICM) program, helping us manage the relationship between water, soil, weather, disease, insects, weeds, and nutrition. Sanding is a process where we apply 1″ of sand on the bog surface every four years on a rotating basis. This year we are scheduled to sand over 350 acres. This procedure helps improve growth and yield by stimulating the development of new uprights (covering the base of the roots strengthens the root system and creates a more healthy vine) while also suppressing disease and reducing insects (by burying weed seed, spores, and insect eggs). It also improves soil drainage while at the same time absorbing and releasing heat so that frost danger in spring is lessened. This increases our efficiency by lowering the need for extra plant nutrition as well as saving water by cutting down frost irrigation times.

In New Jersey, it doesn’t always get cold enough for ice sanding (the preferred method for growers at more northern latitudes), so our team usually works with a sanding barge. This process starts as you might expect: checking water levels. Our team needs to make sure the water is the right depth so the barge operator doesn’t get stuck on any vines or worse, tear them out. Also, the sand needs to be as pure as possible in order to prevent soil compaction (which can restrict water and limit growth) so we screen our sand before using it on the barge to take out any clay, stones, or other debris which could cause problems.

Our team begins to prep a couple of days beforehand by checking to see how much the water level needs to come up. The day before the crew arrives, a supervisor will get the water to sanding level (high enough to cover all vines) and measure out the distance the sander will travel. The crew will begin to sand on the deepest side. The water level can then be adjusted if necessary, which helps with dam conservation.

Our team also prepares by sending the necessary equipment out to the sanding location. A tractor with a winch is on one side of the bog, ready to move the length of the bog; an excavator is on the opposite side of the bog. The cable from the winch is stretched across the bog, through the sander (which has been lifted and put in the bog next to the excavator), and connected to the excavator.

The process itself is simple: a truck is loaded with sand, then heads over to the bog being sanded, backs up to the excavator, and drops the load into our specially built sandbox (designed to improve efficiency and reduce waste). The excavator operator then loads the hopper of the sander, while the sander operator moves along the cable, adjusting the opening for the sand to fall. The process is repeated, with the excavator and tractor moving forward the length of the bog together.

As GM Fred Torres has said in the past, “You have to sand when it’s time to sand; you can’t wait for perfect weather to do what needs to be done.” Unfortunately, though, we had to delay a little bit this week due to the weather. “Heavy rains can slow the process down,” explains Jeremy Fenstermaker. “It’s a lot of wear and tear on the dams, and we’d spend more time fixing them than getting the actual sanding done.” That’s where new equipment helps: “Now that we’re using Hydremas, the work gets done faster, and their wide tires are a lot easier on the dams.”

Early summer

In addition to the ongoing Boricua renovation, our Pine Island team is hard at work on many of our usual summer tasks.

Facilities and Equipment Manager Louis Cantafio is keeping his team very busy. Two equipment storage buildings have been built after the originals were demolished in the aftermath of the 2011 storm that took down the old shop. Another equipment shed by the packing house has been taken down and is being replaced with a larger, more efficient building. The team is doing ground prep for the new one. “We did the initial ground prep for the sheds by the shop, as well,” Louis says. “We’re very well situated to do that. Just raising the ground that small amount made a tremendous improvement; if we get a downpour, the ground’s high enough that we won’t get any water in the shed itself.”

In addition to the routine maintenance work on bog mowers and the harvesting machines, Louis is also training a new member of the equipment team: Miguel “Coco” Mercado, a recent graduate of BCIT and now, a second-generation full-time employee.

The facilities team, under the supervision of Mike Guest, is building the new pump houses at the Boricua renovation, redoing a staff apartment, and widening the doors to old pump houses in order to make engine repair and replacement more efficient.

While all of this is going on, other members of our team are hard at work on pest control. Team members Casey Koehler and Tory Haines spent the afternoon searching for and removing dodder at Telephone Line.

Dodder is a parasitic plant that is a very serious pest for cranberry production and can be challenging to control. In order to thrive, dodder must form a successful attachment to its host. Once a suitable host is found, it will twine around the stem. After attaching to the host, new shoots will develop and either attach itself many times to the same host or branch off to attack different hosts. Research has shown that sanding might have a helpful effect, but while that may reduce the infestation, it does not halt it. So our team removes dodder by hand. Hand-removal is time consuming, but effective in light infestations. Once the dodder has formed an attachment, it is clipped and removed from the area for burial.

Casey and Tory are also keeping an eye out for spotted fireworm larvae. Egg masses of spotted fireworm can be easily detected on the the upper surfaces of weed leaves, and our IPM teams monitor any changes, as the most effective control occurs when the larvae are in the early stages of development.

Most importantly, spotted fireworm can be controlled without harming the bee population, which is always a concern during the bloom period.