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.”

Joan Davenport – July 2019

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.”

“We looked at a lot of bogs this week and I think she pretty much agreed with everything we did,” says Mike Haines. “It looks like we made the right calls. There are some beds that are a little growthier than we like, some stuff a little hungrier, but that’s about normal. We talked a little bit about sanding, and talked about next spring based on what it looked like now, with some early recommendations for the roughneck stage. Nothing too notable or different for the established beds, really.”

“Mike Scullion and I also took her out to Icehouse, which are two new beds we planted a couple years ago,” he says. “They’re growing great but some of them are a weird yellow color, so we wondered what was up. Turns out they’re mostly just young and still establishing fruit, but Joan thought maybe there was a micronutrient deficiency and recommended fish fertilizer for next year. We did that at the Birches a couple times last year and it’s full of micronutrients she thought would be good for this particular situation.”

It’s always good when Joan’s recommendations remain fairly consistent; it means our team did a good job keeping everything steady and giving the beds what they needed through the season, so that all they need to do is put the finishing touches on to take us through the rest of the summer and into harvest!

Work anniversary: Wilfredo Pagan

Team member Wilfredo Pagan has been with Pine Island for forty years this week! Wilfredo and his family have been a huge part of the farm’s success; his wife Nancy works at the Ocean Spray receiving station in Chatsworth, his brother William was a longtime employee, and his in-laws include current team stalwarts Junior Colon, Caesar Colon, and Gerardo Ortiz, as well as retired manager Joe Colon.

Wilfredo has done just about every task that can be done during his time here, and he does it very well! Back in 2014, when asked about goals, he said:

“My personal goals are the same as they’ve always been,” he says. “Keep doing what I’m doing and keep getting better at it.” Specifically, he says, this means always being willing to learn new things. “I’ve done a lot while I’ve been here. I run a lot of the heavier equipment, I help with the bog renovations, I put in new flood gates. . . I always have a lot to learn from Junior. Now I’ve been learning all the ins and outs of the laser leveling. Always something new to pick up.”

“It’s amazing to me that forty years have gone by since Wilfredo started here as a seasonal worker,” says Pine Island CEO Bill Haines, “but he’s developed into a dependable and versatile employee. We can absolutely count on him to be the foreman when we’re installing gates or laying irrigation line; he’s totally dependable and reliable if we have a frost event or a big rain. He’s an employee that we have always counted and can continue to count on.” But most importantly: “As an added plus, he’s a big Eagles fan!”

We’re pleased and proud to have Wilfredo here with us. Thanks for everything you’ve done and will continue to do!

Lakeside Garden Club

This week, Pine Island team members Matt Giberson and Debra Signorelli organized a presentation about cranberries for the Lakeside Garden Club of Cedar Glen Lakes! It’s unusual but very exciting to give a cranberry talk in the middle of July, so we were all looking forward to it!

The Lakeside Garden Club at Cedar Glen Lakes holds monthly meetings that feature a variety of speakers ranging from general interest to garden and environmental issues in the community. They are also a certified “Hummingbird and Butterfly Friendly” community and emphasize preservation of honey bees, so they were a natural fit to hear about some of our year round growing practices.

The presentation began with a brief Haines family history, then Matt took over and walked the group through a typical year in the life of a cranberry grower, listing the various tasks the team performs each season and taking questions as he went along.

“It was a good experience to present in front of this crowd,” Matt says. “It’s interesting for them because they live so close to local growers, they’ve seen cranberry bogs when driving through the area, and now they have a closer look at what we do. It’s always an eye opener!”

“We were privileged to have such a wonderful and informative presentation on the history of the farm and how the bogs run and are maintained,” says club member Carole Nevins, who is also the proud mother of Debra Signorelli. “Our members were blown away to hear about all the different machines used and the long man hours needed to grow cranberries. We are still sharing how interesting the talks were. We all agree, we will never take those little red berries for granted again!”

Big thanks to the Lakeside Garden Club for having us; it was a wonderful chance to chat with some lovely people!