Cranberry News: Vasanna variety

Cranberries have very specific needs regarding soil, water, and nutrition, among other things, and the research team at the Philip E. Marucci Center for Blueberry & Cranberry Research are always hard at work helping cranberry growers address those needs. In recent years, they have developed several new varieties to increase yield per acre, combat disease, and improve color.

Pine Island is starting to see some nice results from one new variety we planted back in 2015, and there’s exciting news on the horizon for growers in other regions: the Vasanna variety!

According to Rutgers, qualities for Vasanna include yields to over 500 barrels/acre in British Columbia and Wisconsin, low fruit rot, higher berry weight, and mid-season TAcy (color measurement). It should do well in most areas, and particularly well in the typical soil conditions in moderate oceanic climates, such as Oregon, Wisconsin, & British Columbia.

There’s a wonderful story to the Vasanna name, as well, and it means a lot to one particular Rutgers scientist. From Fruit Growers News:

Rutgers University cranberry breeder Nicholi Vorsa named his latest release, Vasanna, in memory of his parents, Vas and Anna. Immigrants from Belarus, they had few resources but encouraged him and his brother to finish their doctorate degrees.

“They saw it as a road to success in this country,” said Vorsa. “I was featured in the New York Times once – it was my early years at Rutgers. My father was very proud of that.”

That the Vorsa family was even able to immigrate was extremely fortunate. Vorsa said his grandfather, Damian, was once a cooper with as many as 20 apprentices who helped him build barrels, casks and even water towers for small villages – but the family members were historically were “White Russians” or anti-communists, he said, and grandfather Damian spent time in the Soviet Union’s gulag. The family was blocked from immigrating for years during the USSR’s Josef Stalin regime, arriving in the United States in 1952, Vorsa said.

In an interview with News 12, Nick says, “They were fortunate to get out after the war and come to the U.S. My grandmother was an avid gardener. I was amazed at the variety of tomatoes she had. And that spawned my interest in this area.”

The NJ cranberry industry, and indeed, the industry as a whole, are grateful to be the beneficiaries of that early interest. . .and fortunate to have such strength and resiliency in our community.

Harvest Improvements

In the time since we started this blog, our team has improved many of our processes in the interests of efficiency. The most visible changes, of course, have been to our harvest methods.

Since the 60s, when Bill Haines, Sr. moved entirely to water harvesting, we’ve been using the reel harvesters. Since 2014, however, as our team continues to renovate older beds to improve drainage and yield, we’ve been relying more and more on the Gates Harrow. The Gates Harrow is not as hard on the plants as the reel harvesters, 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.

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. 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 Gates Harrow is a simple machine set up to cover more ground. At the front is a rod which holds vines down to the ground; as the tractor moves forward, the berries pop off the stems and roll up over the tines on the rake. It’s 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. It also picks a lot cleaner; it knocks almost everything off the vines. With the standard reels you’ll still find some berries left here and there. There are also some fuel savings with just one tractor running. It’s also less labor intensive; we typically run a six man picking crew and their target is about 12.5 acres per day. On a more level set of bogs, they can do more than that, but with a Gates Harrow a two-man crew can get through 40 acres. It’s a lot more efficient.

As more and more of our older bogs get marked for renovation, we expect at some point to be full time with just the harrows. But until then, there will still be days like today where we’ll be kicking it old school!

Harvesting young beds

A couple of weeks ago we harvested Warehouse #1 and were impressed with the results. This week, our team returned to finish picking the rest of Warehouse, which we first replanted back in 2015.

The Warehouse renovation plan was highly influenced by Bill’s and Bryan’s trip to Wisconsin a few years back. At the time, Bill said:

We had made the trip because of their incredible increase in production per acre. They have some advantages with regard to location and climate, but each growing area has advantages and disadvantages. The biggest reason we saw was growers in Wisconsin have been very aggressive in the last fifteen years in renovating bogs and making sure they had the best varieties. They improved the way they built their bogs, and they’re still looking for ways to improve every single thing they do.”

And, as predicted, the Warehouse bogs have indeed been among the first to reap those benefits, when a couple of weeks ago the first one alone sent eleven trailer loads to Chatsworth for a yield of 493 barrels per acre.

The rest of them were looking just as good this week, although the numbers aren’t all in yet!

Our team will continue to move down the line from the top of the farm, where more young beds are now ready for their first or second harvest; so far we are optimistic.

A lot of things have changed since we harvested those bogs in 2014: in addition to the beds themselves, we’ve improved on almost every aspect of the process, from picking to gathering to hauling. Remember this?

And, of course, none of this would be possible without the great team we have, who are out there doing everything they do better every day!

Pine Island Team Profiles: Dan Land

Pine Island is now in the thick of harvest, running three teams seven days a week to bring in the crop! One of our newer team members, Dan Land, is experiencing his first cranberry harvest and is doing a fantastic job learning as he goes.

“We got a lead from Johnson’s Farm earlier this year,” explains COO Bryan vonHahmann. “They called Bill [Haines] and said they had someone who used to work for them and was really good, but they didn’t have anything for him at the moment and wondered if we might. So Mike [Haines] and I chatted with him a few times to see if it was the right fit, both for him and for us. Periodic check-ins have shown that he wants to learn everything as well as understand it. He’s a very hard worker and we think he’ll continue to grow.” Dan has also made an impression outside of Pine Island. “Dan actually ran the planting project at Red Road this past spring,” Bryan says, “and we got an email from Maryann at Integrity Propagation about how much she enjoyed working with him; none of us have ever received a review like that! It was good to hear.”

“We’re breaking him in slowly,” says operations manager Matt Giberson. “He’s helped with water a little bit, but now he’s on a gathering crew and getting a better idea of what harvest is all about. He’s asking a lot of questions; he’s a really smart guy, and I think he’s got great potential. His head is always on a swivel, taking it all in. He’s doing really well for his first harvest.” Not every team will finish at the exact same time, so Dan took an opportunity when his own crew was done to go check out how the other two teams ran things. “Each crew does things a little differently,” Matt says. “On Tuesday, once Dan’s crew was done, he went over to Blondie’s crew to see what he could pick up. That was really good to see.” Dan even takes ribbing really well: “He wears a lot of Jets gear. I mean, he says that’s because he worked for them, but it seems kind of fishy to me!” (We just think it means he really is very intelligent and understands that discretion is the better part of valor.)

“We’re going to keep Dan engaged and challenged,” Bryan says. “So far, it looks like it’s working.” Welcome aboard, Dan!

Bett Norcross McCoy, 1943-2020

From our beginning in 1890 (when Martin L. Haines started scooping cranberries in the wild) until 130 years and five generations later (when we now grow over thirty million pounds of cranberries a year), Pine Island Cranberry has remained a family business. Sadly, this week the Haines family lost a member of the fourth generation: Bill and Holly’s sister, Betty Ann McCoy.

Bett was born in Mount Holly in 1943 and grew up on the farm in Hog Wallow, working here every summer. A 1961 graduate of Oakcrest High School, she went on to receive a BS in journalism from the University of Georgia. Over the course of her career, she was the South Carolina bureau chief for the Augusta Chronicle and Augusta Herald before becoming the Hernando bureau chief for the Tampa Tribune, where she also wrote a weekly column. Eventually, she and her husband Aldo came back home, where she worked for the Press of Atlantic City and he worked at our equipment facility. Upon Aldo’s retirement in 2007, they returned to Florida.

Predeceased by her parents and her sister Kay, Bett leaves behind her husband of 35 years, Aldo McCoy; her son Scott Doerr and his wife Dawn; her grandsons Nick and Jason; her brother Bill and sister Holly; and numerous nieces and nephews.

Bett was smart and observant, two qualities that served her well during her reporting career. She took in the world with one raised eyebrow and always gave it to you straight. She worked hard; she was organized; she was funny, and most of all, she loved her family.

She will be missed.

Hauling

The second full week of harvest is going well and our crews are hitting their groove!

One of the bogs our team picked this week is called Warehouse. Warehouse is one of our younger bogs, which was renovated in 2015 and planted with the then-brand new Haines variety. Our team has been very pleased with the results from this variety, which so far has yielded high quality fruit: very firm with excellent color.

Once the fruit is gathered, it’s run through the bogside cleaner, which removes debris (such as leaves, vines, et cetera) as the berries are coming out of the bog. It’s a very efficient process that means we can get the fruit to the Ocean Spray receiving station as quickly as possible, and we have a fleet of trucks to help that along!

The trucks are wired to a set of lights so the gathering team leader can communicate effectively from the cleaner’s platform. When one section of the trailer is full, the team leader hits a button and the yellow light in the truck cab indicates that it’s time to move forward! If the driver moves up a little too far, the team leader will use the red light indicator to tell the driver to back up.)

Once the truck is full (whether it’s cleaned with the bogside cleaner or at our own packing house), it’s time to head down the road!

Once the driver gets to the receiving station, he drives to the scales, where he turns in the paperwork and Ocean Spray takes some initial samples.

He is assigned a pool number, then drives around back and backs up to the assigned pool.

The crew at the station then start running the equipment needed to clear the berries from the trailer and take additional samples as needed. When the truck is empty, it’s back around to the scales to be weighed again, and off again home to pick up another load!

This week, driver Tug Haines looked at the amount of fruit at Warehouse as the gathering crew set up the boom and estimated that we might haul as many as nine truckloads to the receiving station. It turned out to be that much and then some: eleven trailer loads heading to Chatsworth from one 9.3 acre bog, for a yield of 493 barrels per acre. Not a bad start!

Harvest’s beginning – 2020

It’s once again everyone’s favorite time of year: Pine Island’s cranberry harvest is officially underway!

Our team isn’t going full speed ahead just yet. “We’re starting the same as every year, with a focus on taking the early varieties such as Crimson Queen as well as the young beds,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann. “We started off with three crews, but went down to two for now. It hasn’t settled into a groove yet; the color was later this year than expected, and as usual, we’re playing the balance game with color, rot, and water flow.”

As our team continues to renovate older beds to improve drainage and yield, we’ve been relying more and more on the Gates Harrow to knock the berries from the vines. The Gates Harrow is not as hard on the plants as the reel harvesters, and our renovation program is geared for increased efficiency by being user-friendly for equipment like this. And, of course, we’ve made some upgrades to the harrow over the summer that should make the process more efficient!

“Getting started has been stressful but getting better,” says operations manager Matt Giberson. “The quality looks great and the color looks great.”

Vendors: Allen’s Oil

Originally posted on January 13, 2017.

Our team is still working on sanding and all of the other usual winter tasks, so this week, we’re bringing you a quick look at one of our favorite vendors: Allen’s Oil!

Allen’s Oil keeps our irrigation systems running!

Allen’s, a fourth-generation family business in Vincentown, has been Pine Island’s diesel vendor since 2013. From their website:

In the 1940s, Harry T. Allen, Sr. and his son Harry T., Jr. started to deliver home heating oil along with coal. In 1964, the business was passed along to Harry, Jr. In 1977, Harry’s sons, Ronald L. Allen and Roger P. Allen, purchased the company where Ronald served as the third generation company president while his brother, Roger, was vice president.

With Ronald’s dedication, the business continued to grow. In 1991, Ronald decided to add a full-service propane division, at which time the name went from Allen’s Oil to Allen’s Oil and Propane, Inc. As the propane division grew, it was time to expand. In 1994, the Hammonton, NJ office and storage facility was opened with the ability to store 205,000 gallons of propane. Since that time, Allen’s has opened two more storage facilities: one in Elmer, NJ (2005) which has 108,000 gallons of propane storage and another in Southampton, NJ (2008) which has 120,000 gallons of storage.

In June 2001, Ronald purchased Roger’s share of the company. Keeping with the family tradition, Ronald now runs the company with his wife, Sandra, and their two sons Douglas and Jason. As of today, Allen’s Oil & Propane Inc. has a customer base of over 10,000 customers and continues to grow every day.

“I came in to meet with Bill,” says owner Ron Allen, “and he was completely straight with me. I asked him what he was paying, told him what I could offer, and he said, it’s a deal.” It’s a tough business to be in these days, Ron says, but “it takes people from both sides to make it work, and Pine Island is always there to support us.”

And we’re glad to support them, according to CEO Bill Haines: “Allen’s Oil is the kind of vendor we like,” he says. “They’re totally dependable and totally reliable. Which means that we not only don’t have to worry about whether they’re going to be here and do what they say, we don’t even have to think about it; we can just count on it.”

Harvest prep – 2020

September means harvest is getting closer every day, and our team is making sure everything gets done in plenty of time.

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.” 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 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.

The team is also looking at the fruit itself. In order to take advantage of the higher TAcy levels, they’re testing color to determine what beds we expect to pick first. Some varieties color earlier than others, and that is a factor we consider when planning our harvest strategy. Ocean Spray likes a consistent color, so we will take samples to the receiving station to check the TAcy number (an acronym for “total anthocyanin concentration” and is a unit of color measurement used in a cranberry) before harvesting. While the humidity gets worse in late summer, the nights tend to get cooler, and this actually improves the color.

Harvest time means being prepared for anything, and our team is well on its way.

Planting: Red Road

Our team finished the summer planting at Red Road last week!

Pine Island used rooted cuttings, which means planting plants with roots already established. One of our concerns prior to getting the plants in 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.

Our renovated acreage at Red Road has been planted with the Haines variety, which has been yielding good results for us. “We put in about 15 acres this time,” says manager Mike Haines. “We’ve already planted like 50 acres of Haines over there, so it’s nice that it’ll all be uniform. We can treat it all the same way and harvest it all together around mid-season, as it’s Haines is a mid season ripening variety.”

The planting process is always 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.

Our team had discussed the possibility of using our new GPS system for planting, but ultimately decided against it. “The tractor didn’t have enough horsepower for the poly puller,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann.

The bogs will take about four years to reach full production, and we anticipate another excellent result!