Joan Davenport – Summer 2018

Our team just finished another productive follow-up visit with soil scientist Dr. Joan Davenport! Joan comes to see us in the spring during the bloom period and again in the height of summer to discuss fertilizer needs for bud set. Joan looks at hook, the length and color of the new upright growth, and the amount and color of old leaves, including looking for leaves from two growing seasons ago.

Additional plant nutrition is necessary because while cranberries have adapted (and thrive) in their native sandy soil, nutrients are taken from the bog through the harvest of fruit. The three main elements usually added for nutrition are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. This time of year we look for recommendations for bud set fertilizer as we have to make sure the plants have enough to maintain the fruit as it finishes sizing up before harvest, but also that the plants set buds for next year’s crop. With a perennial crop, we’re always thinking about this year and the next; all the years are related.

“At this point in the growing season, we are evaluating the plants to complete the grown season and support next year’s crop,” Joan says. “To do this, I look at the crop load, the presence and quantity of buds, the length and color of the new upright growth, and the color of last growing season’s leaves. This season’s new leaves should be green and the old (last year’s) leaves just starting to turn pale. Larger crop loads indicate higher nitrogen demand. There should be visible buds and few to no uprights actively growing, plus few to no runners present.”

“Joan’s recommendations this time are pretty consistent,” says Mike Haines. “That feels really good, because I think it means we did a good job keeping everything consistent and giving the beds what they needed through the season so that we just need to put the finishing touches on. I’m happy about that; it had looked good, so it’s good to get the confirmation from Joan.”

Community service

Last week during the annual Pine Barrens Festival in Tabernacle, one of Pine Island’s team members received a special award from his home community. Per the Pine Barrens Tribune:

During each night of the festival, a different town from the Burlington County communities of the Pine Barrens is spotlighted as part of a “Focus On Our Town” event. . .

“We firmly believe that the quality of life in each town is highlighted by the quality and quantity of volunteer service that is gifted to the town by its people,” [Holy Eucharist spokesperson Mary] Fischl said. “We wish to show our appreciation and congratulate these folks.”

This year, the recipient for Woodland Township’s annual award was our very own Facilities/Equipment manager Louis Cantafio!

Louis has been a hard-working team member since he started here six years ago, always willing to do whatever it takes and work as many hours as he needs to to make sure everything is done, especially in an emergency.

“Louis is just a really good guy,” says Woodland Township mayor Bill DeGroff. “He volunteers a lot of his free time and expertise for zero compensation. The minute he hears someone needs something, his first response is usually ‘What can I do to help?’ He’s on the land use board, he volunteers with the forest fire service, and he’s been spending a lot of time pitching in with the fire house remodel, even though he’s not a company member. It was a pretty easy decision to offer his name for the award.”

“We’re really impressed with the work that Louis does in the community,” says Pine Island CEO Bill Haines. “It’s obvious that he brings the same kind of dedication and energy to his community that he brings to his work at Pine Island, and we’re really proud of him.”

Dam widening project

This year, one of our long-term ongoing projects is at last near completion: widening our dams and building turnarounds for easier travel during harvest. On a cranberry farm, dams serve two purposes: to detain the water used for irrigation and water management, and for vehicle use. Dam maintenance is highly important for both safety and equipment. Widening dams makes hauling easier, especially since some parts of the operation are quite a distance from our cleaning platform.

Now, instead of several trucks carrying two boxes, we can use a tractor trailer that carries nine and won’t need to use as many trucks. It will be more efficient for both the gathering team and the packing house platform, as well as freeing up team members to be elsewhere if we need them. We’ve planned it out so there’s a route where they can gather the bogs off one dam in order to widen as few turns as possible. It also makes room for new equipment like our bog side cleaners and our Gates Harrow harvesters.

“We’re very close to being done,” says bog renovations manager Steve Manning. “Mostly the gates are all done and we’re just moving dirt for now. It’s a lot easier when we’re doing an active reno because we’re already doing so much redesigning, but we’re trying to get a little ahead of that for future renovations by moving pump houses and shifting some other things around so we don’t have to do it later.” The most difficult part is working with the irrigation, especially in the summertime when heat can be an issue, but this week the weather worked in our favor. “You wouldn’t think this wet weather would help, but we got a lot done.”

“We have Sim Place, the lake, and the west side of 563 all done,” says operations manager Matt Giberson. “Now we’re working the middle, which has the most acreage, and is also the most complicated because of all the old bogs and their various shapes.” Back when the farm was founded, the bogs were dug by hand, so many of the older parts of the farm were designed by necessity to work around the topography. “We drove around a lot to look at everything and think about it for a while,” Matt says. “We’ve been working on this final stage over the last year, and should be done by harvest. We’ve tried to time it with the rain so we don’t have to worry about a heat run or irrigation run during gate installation. And we’ve been thinking ahead to when we renovate in 10 or 15 years down the road. We may end up adding some turnaround spots as we go, since during harvest we ideally want to be able to work from any corner we can. But as of right now, we’re looking to be ready by this year’s harvest.”

Planting – July 2018

Pine Island has finished the planting for the year, and everything went very well! “We planted approximately 25 acres in May and about another 25 at the beginning of July,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann. “I think that’s going to be about what we currently planned for next year’s planting, as well.”

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.

“Planting went really well this year,” Bryan says. “We’re continuing to learn and finding some better ways to do things, as well as making adjustents to try next year.” For instance, instead of dropping the empty plant trays along the route and having someone come along to do clean-up, this year we built a basket for the front of the tractor so when the team done with the trays, they’re all in one place and at the end of the row the trays are removed, which saves the team some time.

Planned changes for next year include working on the irrigation installation. “We continue to struggle with the timing,” Bryan says. “We usually install the Webster valves ahead of time so we can pull them out, plant, and put them back in so we can water the new beds. But it’s inevitable that the planter hits some of them, so next year we’re going to try installing after we finish the planting. That’ll mean more people, though, so we’ll see.”

Other than that, he says, “it was pretty much steady as she goes! Matt Stiles normally manages the planting but this year he had Mike Scullion as a trainee. Going forward, Mike will probably be managing that team, which is a good thing.” The main drawback was the weather, but the team made adjustments as necessary. “It was really tough with the heat,” Bryan says. “We were getting 95 and 96 degree days, so we’d start at 5 and end at 2:30 to beat it a little, but that takes a toll on anyone!”

Summer with the sixth generation!

Jack Fenstermaker, son of bog designer Jeremy Fenstermaker and grandson of Pine Island CEO Bill Haines, starts high school in September but is spending his summer learning some of the basics of cranberry growing!

Jack started with us about two weeks ago and has been keeping busy ever since! “I’ve helped my dad with the layout of some dams and I’ve been doing a lot of cleaning up around the gates and stuff,” Jack says. “I’ve been on the planter, too! That took a long time. It was pretty cool to watch though!” His favorite part was being able to walk behind the planter to make sure that the rooted cuttings were placed correctly. “Today I’m carrying a bucket around in the bogs so that I can pick up any of the trash left over from planting. It’s pretty easy! It just takes a long time.”

“Jack’s getting a lot of stuff done that might not get done if he wasn’t here,” his dad says. “The energy he’s got is pretty good, he doesn’t stop once he gets started. He’s doing really well; I’m impressed at his work ethic at only 13.” Jack goes out with his dad at 5:00 A.M. and goes until about 2:30 in the afternoon along with the rest of the planting crew in order for the team to avoid the worst of the heat. “It’s an early day but you get out early so it’s better,” Jack says. “I can go home for lunch, and I get a snack break too. It’s fifteen minutes but my dad tries to say it’s only ten!”

“He seems to be very into it,” says bog renovations manager Steve Manning. “He had fun with the other kids, especially on the planter. They all did a great job.” And apparently Jack is already looking forward to increased responsibility: “He told me he can’t wait to drive a bigger truck, and even tried to get his dad to let him drive the little excavator.” His dad said no, incidentally, but keep an eye out for future developments!

“It’s great to have Jack here this summer,” says his grandfather Bill. “He’s fun to have around, he’s doing a good job, and I like his energy and his enthusiasm. It’s great to have another generation on board.”

Twilight Meeting 2018

This week, some Pine Island team members attended the Cranberry Growers Twilight Meeting, hosted this year by the Philip E. Marucci Center for Blueberry and Cranberry Research and Extension. In contrast to the American Cranberry Grower Association’s Winter Meeting, the focus here is less research-oriented and uses a more hands-on approach to addressing timely topics of importance to cranberry growers.

The first scheduled talk was with Patricia Hastings of the Rutgers University Agricultural Extension Service, who has taken over the annual safety talk requirements after Ray Samulis retired! We all miss Ray, who’s been a mainstay for many years, but it’s wonderful to have someone willing to step in to assist with continuing education. Other talks included monitoring for cranberry insects, with Dr. Cesar Rodriguez-Saona; an update on cranberry diseases with Dr. Peter Oudemans; an update on weed management by Dr. Thierry Besancon; and finished up with a talk on frost damage in cranberries with Dr. Nick Vorsa. And, of course, there was a good dinner, provided by the hard-working staff of the Marucci Center!

In addition to the importance of new research findings, it’s also a great chance for the cranberry community to get together face-to-face. Our team, and the other growers, work with Rutgers all the time, but it’s good to be able to sit down with other growers and find out if they’re having some of the same problems with pests, or fairy ring, or excessive heat. That additional perspective can help us troubleshoot our own applications.

Cesar stepped in after Ray’s retirement to organize and host this year’s meeting, and we’re all very grateful for it. He set up a highly informative program and an excellent meal, just as he does for the annual Winter Meeting and Summer Field Day, year after year. Thank you, Cesar!

Bees! – June 2018

A good fall harvest depends on a successful growing and pollination season, and cranberry growers, like many fruit growers, rely on honeybees and bumble bees to cross pollinate blossoms. Production and yield is directly tied to good pollination and subsequent fruit set. In addition, pollinators are important to native plants, which provide food and cover for numerous wildlife species, as well as helping stabilize the soil and improve water quality. One of the more important elements in the Pine Island Integrated Crop Management (PIICM) program is ensuring adequate pollination; flowers that are not visited by bees rarely produce fruit. To this end, we work with several New Jersey beekeepers to temporarily install hives during the bloom period, usually at the end of May/beginning of June depending on the weather.

Timing is key; our team waits until a bog is at about 20 to 40% bloom so the bees have enough to immediately start pollinating. This is important because cranberries are actually a lot of work for honeybees. On a cranberry plant, the anthers (the pollen-bearing part of the stamen) are shaped very differently from most other flowers, having an opening at the end of the anther, rather than splitting open to expose the pollen. This means getting the pollen out requires extra work by the pollinator. While some believe that honeybees are not as efficient at this task, single visits by pollen foraging honeybees can be enough to elicit fruit, especially in areas where weather during bloom is warm. Research has shown that honeybees are competent at pollinating cranberry flowers as long as the weather remains satisfactory, according to the USDA.

Traditionally we place two bee colonies per acre every spring, but manager Mike Haines has some ideas about that for future growing seasons. “The growers out in Wisconsin are really knowledgeable about bees, right down to knowing the different types of honey bees. Some of them are using 5 to 7 colonies per acre, which I’d never heard of before. They’re big proponents of the idea and say if you increase the number of pollinator visits, it leads to bigger fruit. I’m intrigued by that and would like to experiment. It’s expensive, but they must see a benefit.”

We don’t rely entirely on our hard-working beekeepers; native pollinators such as bumblebees are also valuable to us, and bumblebees will work in wet and/or windy conditions. Bumblebees have other advantages: they work faster, visiting many more flowers per minute. Their large size lets them carry huge pollen loads, allowing longer foraging trips, and achieving better contact with flowers. Larger deposits of pollen promote pollination as well as the formation of more uniform and larger fruit. Perhaps most importantly, bumblebees are naturally attracted to cranberry plants!

June quail updates! – 2018

Back in March, New Jersey Audubon, in conjunction with quail project partners the University of Delaware, Tall Timbers, Pine Creek Forestry, and the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife, released another 80 translocated bobwhite quail on our Sim Place property. We mentioned then that this additional year on the project has a slightly different focus:

This year’s release has a particular focus on population survival and breeding dynamics in a concentrated area. Unlike previous years of the study (2015-2017), where translocated birds were split into coveys and spread out over the 14,000-acre study site and tracked, all 2018 translocated birds were released in one area to help “boost” the population density in a concentrated area of optimal habitat. This area of optimal habitat has supported quail and their offspring from prior years, releasing all birds into a focal area produces a higher density of birds. That higher density of birds should help overall survival by increasing covey size, mating opportunities, nesting and hatching.

“We are pleased with the preliminary results of the study,” said John Parke, Stewardship Project Director of New Jersey Audubon. “But we are very curious how this release will influence the bird’s overall survival and breeding, considering the higher quail density in an area that continues to support Bobwhite from previous releases and the offspring of those translocated birds.”

The latest phase of this project seems to be right on track, as so far this month the team has found at least three nests.

But the best update of all came yesterday:

“The first Bobwhite Quail nests of the season hatched today at the Pine Island Cranberry study site,” John says. “A total of 29 new chicks successfully fledged the nests! Both parents will care for the young until their first flight which occurs 14-16 days after hatching. Quail chicks, about the size of a bumblebee when hatched, are dependent on insects and good habitat to survive until the fall. Once the insects disappear, the birds begin to feed on seeds.”

We look forward to further updates on the new babies as well as the remaining nest!

*Nest photos courtesy of John Parke

Board of Advisors – June 2018

This week it was once again time for PICC’s quarterly Board of Advisors meeting at our main office! The Board of Advisors meets to review the financials, the operating plan, personnel, and to evaluate strategy. CEO Bill Haines has always tried to incorporate a field trip at every meeting, and this time around, he decided to make it the top agenda item!

The morning started in our meeting room with brief introductory remarks by COO Bryan vonHahmann, who in turn introduced Manager of Operations Matt Giberson to the group. Matt then gave the board a little bit of his background as well as an outline of his typical day, making sure people and equipment need to be where they need to be when they need to be there! Board members took full advantage of the opportunity to ask questions and learn as much as they could about a part of the operation they don’t usually see.

Next on the office program was Jeremy Fenstermaker, who took board members through his office set-up and demonstrated how he maps out and designs irrigation systems.

And after that, it was off to see the rest of our team in action! Bill mapped out a comprehensive route that took our visitors through every stage of our current projects. First, we stopped at some of our new production at different growth stages, where everyone had a chance to listen to Matt Stiles talk about bog design, planting, and early growth, as well the various solutions we’ve tried for drainage.

Then, we went to the latest renovation acreage, where everyone not only got a close-up look at the ongoing work, but was also able to get a spectacular panoramic view as well as see Jeremy’s design in person.

The board then took a quick look at part of our forestry project, took a drive by the Marucci Center where so much great research is being done, and finished the tour in grand style by visiting Pine Island’s latest acquisition!

Pine Island has recently bought back some of the acreage known as the Birches (originally purchased by our founder, Martin L. Haines, in the late 19th century) and plans to do some experimenting with different growing methods! The board visited one of the bogs we’re planning to harvest in the fall, then toured the packing house, which still houses an old-school cranberry sorter.

Then it was back to the office for lunch and to review the financials!

It was a perfect day to be outside, and the board enjoyed themselves. It’s always great to show off our beautiful property, and we’re looking forward to the next meeting!

Joan Davenport – May 2018

If it’s May, it must be time for a visit from Dr. Joan Davenport! A former researcher for Ocean Spray, Joan works with Pine Island to provide guidance on fertilizer, water, and nutrients, as well as general integrated crop management. “At this point in the growing season, we are evaluating the plants for fruit potential and trying to develop recommendations for applications between bloom and fruit set. To do this, I look at hook, the length and color of the new upright growth, and the amount and color of old leaves, including looking for leaves from two growing seasons ago,” Joan says.

Our team had been a bit concerned about where we were in the growing season, due to all the rain we’ve been getting, but Joan’s visit has set their minds at ease. “We’re actually pretty much where we normally are right around now because while it’s been rainy, it’s been pretty warm too,” says Mike Haines. “We haven’t had a frost night since the beginning of May, and last spring our last frost night was mid-month, so it seems to have all evened out in the end. Joan always tries to time her visit right when bloom is about the start, since it’s the best time to make fertilizer decisions. Of course, we’re now at the point where if there’s a window we just fly even if conditions aren’t perfect!”

“We’re where we need to be right now, which is good,” says Matt Stiles. “This year we’re going to be experimenting a little more with the young stuff and adding more just to get the bogs filled in more quickly, so it was especially valuable to get Joan’s recommendations.”

“The general philosophy for management is to focus on root development in the first year, then shoots the following year, and then beginning fruit production in year three,” Joan says. “If the beds are not well established by year three, it is best to maintain practices to minimize fruit set. The reason for this is that fruit production requires many of the plant’s resources (nutrients, water, carbohydrates) and setting a significant crop prior to plant establishment will delay the ability to get to the desired situation where the roots/shoots/fruit are in equilibrium and can sustain long term production.”

It was also a great new experience for Mike Scullion, our new ICM team member! “It’s nice walking around with someone with [Joan’s] knowledge, because I have a lot to learn, obviously,” he says. “She outlines the present needs of the plants, but she also educates the staff, so it’s a win-win situation.” One of his biggest lessons: “She taught me how to look for nitrogen and phosphorus deficiencies with the color changes to the leaves. I’m looking forward to her next visit.”

Joan is due to come back mid-summer to check on progress and make any new recommendations necessary, and we’re looking forward to it as well!