From Bog to Bottle 2018

If it’s mid-October, that must mean it’s time for another visit from George Giorno of Ocean Spray! George comes to see us every year, along with various account executives from some of Ocean Spray’s wholesale customers. This year, we were happy to visit again with Greg McCann of Advantage Solutions, who brought along new customer development manager Julianna Lombardi, and John Aleksandrowicz and Mark McFadden of Foodtown/Allegiance Marketing. Rounding out the group were Ocean Spray sales directors Eric Sinsigalli and Brian Gormley!

The morning started at the Pine Island main office, where CEO Bill Haines gave the group a brief farm history and a quick overview of what they were about to see, and then it was off to catch the action.

We’ve only been running once crew this week, but there was plenty of opportunity to see everything going on! They got to see the older reel harvesters in action as well as the bog side cleaner, and there was even time for a quick tour of the shop and a close-up look at one of our recently planted beds before heading to the Ocean Spray receiving station in Chatsworth.

George and his group are always a highlight of our harvest season, and they always have a good time.

“I learn something new every single year,” says Greg McCann. “This year I learned that due to the warmer and drier weather this year, you are only running one crew and picking late due to the fact that the berries are not turning red as quickly as you would like. I also learned the different shades of red that are needed to make Craisins. And it was another perfect weather day, as well!”

Mark McFadden wants to come back again and try something new: “I thought Wednesday was an awesome day, and I must say, Pine Island is a very impressive operation. I am hoping next time I can go into the bogs!”

“As a long time Ocean Spray Sales Manager, I can easily say that no other experience compares to the expression on my customer’s faces than that of witnessing the magic of our cranberry harvest at PICC with the Haines family,” says George. “No matter how I prepare them for what they’re about the experience, it’s never enough and never disappoints! This year was no different as John, Mark and Juliana were all rendered speechless as we drove through the farm on what amounted to be the perfect brilliant fall day! For me, this serves as my annual cranberry charge as it reminds me how blessed I am to be both associated with such a wonderful brand and where I get to be part of a generous cooperative grower family who treat me as one of their own!”

Bill was just as happy with this year’s visit. “It was great to have the Ocean Spray team here,” he says. “George always brings an interesting group of people. We don’t do many tours, but that’s one we always enjoy. We’re happy to show our operation, our heritage, and talk to them about everything we do to protect the environment and supply quality cranberries for the market.”

Thanks again for a wonderful morning, George! We appreciate everything you, your team, and your guests do, and we look forward to seeing you next year!

Reel method

With fewer acres to pick due to the late-holds as well as our ongoing renovation projects, we’re typically only running two picking crews this year rather than the usual three. The majority will be picked with the Gates Harrow, though a limited number of older bogs will still be harvested using the reel method.

The Gates Harrow is not as hard on the plants as our usual method, and our renovation program is geared for increased efficiency by being user-friendly for equipment like this. But there are still older beds in the center of the farm that are easier to pick using the former method. (This goes for gathering as well; while the bog side cleaner remains in use, the crew instead uses the box trucks instead of tractor trailers, as the dams there simply are not wide enough.)

When it comes to picking with the reels, there’s a lot to think about; it’s not as easy as just putting the machines in the water. There’s a method to it in order to keep from damaging the fruit or the vines. The difficulty fluctuates slightly due to bog size, weeds, and terrain, as well as other variables such as water levels, crop size, and even berry variety, as newer varieties typically have a greater yield. Some berries do not float to the surface as easily and remain under the vine canopy, which is why they stagger machines in the water in order to both maximize yield and minimize damage to the vines.

Each bog is picked in a specific pattern according to terrain, and the picking crew has to carefully move their harvesters around stakes which have been arranged for maximum operational efficiency. Following this pattern allows for minimal damage to the vines. The crew leader also needs to stay ahead of his crew and check for ditches, for everyone’s safety.

The basic process actually is fairly simple: water reels, or “beaters” are used to stir up the water in the bogs. The berries are dislodged, or “knocked”, from the vines and float to the surface of the water. The machines are slowly rolled into the water and the wheels are lined up against each other, but not in a straight line. Initially, a crew member will walk the bog ahead of the edge harvester, which is smaller and lighter than the other harvesting machines in order to maneuver more easily near the ditches.

While this method is slower than the Gates Harrow, our team is still able to get quite a lot accomplished!

New cleaning line – follow-up

Last month in the run-up to harvest we went over some equipment modifications at our berry platform! This week, COO Bryan vonHahmann gave us a brief update on its performance so far.

“We didn’t use it as much early on because we were learning about what it will improve and what it’ll make worse,” Bryan says. “We have a lot of young beds coming into production over the next few years, so finding out what works and what doesn’t is going to be crucial.” Young beds have less canopy cover and thus are more prone to rot issues, but the amount of usable fruit on even a three year bed can make a huge difference.

“What we found out during the early run is that if the fruit is soft, the cleaning line can actually damage it. So we have to be aware of that and calculate the optimal timing for running the fruit through,” Bryan says. “The upside is, we’re getting good results. So far we’ve achieved up to 50% improvement on the berries we put through. If the fruit’s at the right stage of firmness/quality, it does run more slowly than what we‘re used to, but we knew that it would be. We don’t anticipate running all our fruit through it, so it’s doing just fine.”

The new line will be running again shortly, Bryan says. “Next week we’ll be picking beds in the center of the farm that we can’t get tractor trailers to, so we have to send in the old trucks.”

“We think it has a place in our operation, and we’re looking to make modifications based on what we learn this year.”

Board of Advisors meeting

Last week, the PICC Board of Advisors held its quarterly meeting at the main office.

The Board of Advisors meets to review the financials, the operating plan, personnel, and to evaluate strategy. “We try and incorporate a field trip at every meeting,” says CEO Bill Haines. “In the spring we visited a bog that was under renovation, this summer we visited newly planted renovated beds, and this month we checked out the start of harvest.” After a lunch catered by La Campagnola, they set out!

Board members who came along for the tour this year included attorney extraordinaire Ron Malcarney, banker (and longtime family friend), Jim Wujcik, John Krol of Legacy Advisors, and Victor Henriquez, all the way from Cranberries Austral Chile!

Another successful meeting during what we’re hoping will be another exceptional harvest!

*All photos courtesy of Nadine Haines.

Harvest begins – 2017

The 2017 harvest is officially underway at Pine Island Cranberry!

Right now, we are running two picking teams instead of three, and both of them are using the Gates Harrow.

Our gathering team is working with newly updated equipment that should increase efficiency and reduce wear and tear on the dams.

Overall, our team is doing what they do best: getting the harvest in safely, and doing everything they do better every day!

Quail project gets national recognition

This past Tuesday, Pine Island CEO Bill Haines was the recipient of New Jersey’s first ever National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative’s (NBCI) National Fire Bird Conservation Award. The award, presented at the NJ Fish and Game Council Meeting by James Sloan of the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife (NJDFW) “recognizes entities and/or an individual’s contributions to that state’s efforts toward habitat-based restoration of wild bobwhite”.

“The work done at Pine Island Cranberry Company over the years through active forest stewardship, combined with their participation in the national Bobwhite Quail recovery initiative could very well change the reintroduction effort in the Mid-Atlantic region for the species,” said Sloan.

Pine Island Cranberry is enormously proud of taking part in this project. Our site was chosen for several reasons, among them a state-approved Forest Stewardship Plan outlining long-term management goals as well as the extent of existing quality habitat already onsite from years of active forestry work, prescribed burning and agricultural best management practices that made it stand out above other sites in the region. Caring for the place where we live, work, and grow is one of our core values, and this project is a unique opportunity to give back to the land which sustains us.

“The actions that Bill and the Pine Island team have taken will continue to create and enhance high quality habitat for the species in the years ahead as plan implementation progresses,” says John Parke, NJ Audubon Stewardship Project Director. “We congratulate Bill and his team on receiving this well-deserved award and commend Pine Island and Pine Island’s forester Bob Williams of Pine Creek Forestry, for their efforts to establish quality habitat for quail and other species, while also helping to address forest health issues such as fuel load reduction, control of forest diseases and pests, and ultimately successful regeneration and forest function.”

“We are honored to receive this recognition, but it is an even greater honor to participate in the project with partners like NJ Audubon, the University of Delaware, Tall Timbers, and the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife,” says Stefanie Haines, who received the award on behalf of her father. “We are proud that our stewardship practices benefit not only our business and our home, but the wildlife which surrounds us as well.”

*Award photo courtesy of John Parke

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!”

ACGA Summer Field Day 2017

Last 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.

Dr. Cesar Rodriguez-Saona once again put together an excellent and informative program, starting with the very first summer field talk for weed specialist Thierry Besançon. In addition to a “show and tell” session with Stephen Lee, we also bid a fond farewell to Ray Samulis, our Burlco Agricultural Agent, whose talk on farm safety has long been a mainstay of our meetings! We’ll miss you, Ray, and we promise: we’ll keep our initials off your list.

The most important part, however, is always the chance to sit down and catch up with fellow cranberry growers. “During the busy growing season, you seldom have the chance to talk to them about what they’re doing: how they see the crop, what new things they’re trying. It’s a great chance for growers to exchange ideas,” says Pine Island CEO Bill Haines. And our friends and neighbors feel much the same way!

ACGA President Shawn Cutts:

The meeting this year was excellent. All of the speakers provided valuable information and insight. It was great to hear updates on all the important ongoing research at the Marucci Center. The presentation on Root Growth in Cranberries by Dr. Amaya Atucha was a highlight that presented new and interesting information to NJ growers on how and when cranberry roots grow.

Joe Darlington, J.J. White:

I thought this meeting was a very good one; the weather even cooperated pretty well. All of the researchers presented interesting and useful info. This was the first time I heard Nick [Vorsa, Director at the Marucci Blueberry and Cranberry Research and Extension Center] say 1,000 barrels per acre in a public setting. Now we just need to put that together with real rot resistance. It is good to see that Thierry is on the ground and running with his research.

Bill Cutts, Cutts Brothers:

I thought the weather was great and the talks all had some nuggets of interest and progress in solving some of our problems; I found the talk about roots by the researcher from Wisconsin particularly interesting. I also encourage everyone to bring a chair or stool next year. It was great to sit comfortably while listening to the talks!

Jeff LaFleur, Mayflower Cranberries:

It is always great to visit with so many friends and colleagues at the ACGA meeting. It is especially valuable for me as a relatively new grower to see the latest in varietal development and pest management. With the increased emphasis on fruit quality I always learn something new from Peter Oudemans that I can use on my farm back in Massachusetts.

Finally, all of us at the ACGA as well as Pine Island Cranberry wish a speedy recovery to Tommy Budd! We missed you on Friday, sir, and look forward to seeing you again soon.

A visit with Ted Gordon – summer 2017

This week we had the opportunity to take a ride around the property with Ted Gordon, a research specialist with more than 35 years experience in botanical studies, including contributions to major plant studies of endangered species in the Pinelands. A former Pinelands Commissioner, Ted primarily conducts rare species surveys and research, monitors habitats, and designs management plans for the conservation and enhancement of rare plants, and we are very fortunate to have access to his knowledge and experience.

Our forest stewardship plan has been invaluable in protecting our water supply as well as providing a habitat for translocated Northern bobwhite quail. Another is that it’s been highly beneficial to several rare plant species that are native to the Pine Barrens. Ted periodically comes to visit and gives suggestions on how to manage areas with certain floral species, such as when it might be time to mow or if a recent prescribed burn has had any effect.

While we have no photos of the species he was examining yesterday and won’t be publishing locations, Ted was highly pleased at what he found, pointing out the high count on some rare summer species as well as the one getting ready for their autumn debut! “I find all kinds of plants growing near cultivated beds, more so than anywhere else,” he says. “Cranberry properties have the most diversity thanks to common forestry practices.”