Quail update – August 2017

In our last update from June on the quail translocation project, we were all very excited to hear about the first confirmed nest. Now there’s even better news from the forest – there are baby quail hatching again!

This may be the most successful stage yet for New Jersey Audubon’s Northern Bobwhite Restoration Project. A little background from the website:

New Jersey Audubon has been steadfastly working, with its project collaborators (Tall Timbers Research Station, the University of Delaware, Pine Island Cranberry Company, Pine Creek Forestry and the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife) over the past three years to study translocation as a viable method of creating a sustainable wild population of Bobwhite Quail back in New Jersey. In wildlife conservation, the term ‘Translocation’ means the capture, transport and release/introduce a species from one area to another with the ultimate goals of species population persistence and resilience at the release area. In New Jersey the Northern Bobwhite Quail was once a common species, however it is now believed to be functionally extinct in the state, thus translocation offers an option to “jump-start” the species on the road to recovery in its former home in NJ.

“We’ve found 12 nests this year,” says John Parke, NJA Stewardship Project Director. “Of those dozen nests, five were depredated and three have hatched, with a total of forty chicks hatched so far. There are four nests still active that could hatch any day now.”

Some other fun facts from the project: 240 wild birds have been released since 2015, with 38 nests confirmed to date and 97 chicks confirmed hatched. This year makes the first time a male has successfully incubated a nest all the way through, as well as the first year for a double clutch. Even better, NJA has received approval for a fourth year release!

“Reproductive success is a critical component of the translocation project,” John says. “We are very excited to confirm the successful hatching of a double clutch nest, and a male successfully incubating to completion, because it reflects the quality of habitat on site that was achieved through the management. By performing active management on the land a balance of different cover types for nesting, brood rearing, and foraging allows for the translocated Bobwhite to take advantage of their naturally high reproductive potential.”

* Photos courtesy Phil Coppola

Joan Davenport – summer 2017

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. “At this point in the growing season, we are evaluating the plants to complete the grown season and support next year’s crop. To do this, I look at the crop load, the presence and quantity of buds, the length and color of the new upright growth, 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 N[itrogen] demand. There should be visible buds and few to no uprights actively growing, plus few to no runners present,” Joan says.

“In May it’s the beginning of the growing season, so she’s basically helping us make nutrition decisions for the highest demand time of year, bloom and fruit set,” says manager Mike Haines. “She’s here to help make sure we get this crop growing nice and healthy.” For this, 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.

‘This time of year we’re looking at recommendations for bud set fertilizer,” Mike says. “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. So at all times, we’re thinking about this year and the next, but that’s it goes with a perennial crop; all the years are related.” A follow-up visit is always useful for the team. “After we start to implement her recommendations, we do adjust as needed based on observation; stuff always happens that we don’t expect. At Sim Place, we sanded a lot of beds this year for the first time ever, and it’s pretty mucky soil out there. The sand seemed to really stimulate growth even more than we would have wanted in some places, so we cut back on fertilizer there. Conversely, on the home farm at Boricua, we have new plants but it’s really sandy. The water drains pretty quickly and there’s not a lot of organic matter in the soil so we added much more fertilizer than we originally planned to there.”

“It’s going to take eyes on the beds,” Joan says. “But here, there are always eyes on the beds.” And as always, our PIICM team is out doing whatever it takes to make sure our growing season gives us good results!

Safety milestone

Safety is one of our ever-present goals at Pine Island Cranberry, and our team has regular meetings to keep everyone updated and to issue any necessary equipment.

We also like to celebrate when our team hits important targets, and this month Pine Island has once again made it over a year accident-free!

“Safety is very important to us at Pine Island; it is an obligation we all share,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann. “Our team operates large, powerful equipment – sometimes in inclement weather and tough situations, so they have to be safety conscious at all times, for themselves and fellow workers. We want our employees to go home at the end of the day in the same condition they came: that is, healthy and free from injury. Their families count on this! We continually discuss the value of safety to instill the behaviors that promote working safely.”

Prevention, of course, is a top concern. “The best way to keep everyone accident-free is to be proactive in setting up an environment that’s conducive to safety in the first place,” says Mike Haines. “Maintaining the dams, the equipment, the buildings; that means we’ll keep to a minimum any unexpected events that can lead to an injury. Making sure everyone is provided hardhats, ear protection, and gloves ensures that they’ll have them when they need them, and so does wearing them at any time an accident could happen. A lot of things happen before that ultimately lead to accident or injury or whatever, so staying on top of those little things helps make sure a bigger thing doesn’t occur.”

Safety training doesn’t just happen in the field, either! “The instructional videos on safety that Debra [Signorelli, our office admin] provides for our workers has insured the safety of our team,” says Matt Giberson. “The videos have helped seasonal workers understand the importance of chemical application. Debra is currently looking at additional training videos that will continually improve the safety around the farm. Another practice that we have put forth in recent years is the importance of head protection via hard hats. With the renovation process at full steam ahead, our team is around a lot of heavy machinery. So the use of hard hats and proper training of our operators has helped provide a safer working environment for all.”

Matt Stiles attributes a good record to good everyday practices. “Even if it’s a routine job, we always take the time to make sure we’re doing it right,” he says. “We’re careful with everything we do. And it’s not just the managers; guys like Juan Carlos and Jonathan and Israel make sure everyone is properly equipped and really keep a close eye out to make sure we’re all doing what we need to do.”

“I’m very proud that we kept all of our folks safe for a full year,” says Louis Cantafio. “In an operation as large as ours, with ‘whatever it takes!’ as our starting point, it can be very difficult for each of us to keep ourselves safe: ‘if I just reach a little further; if I just yank a little harder; if I just go little faster; if I just try a little harder; if I just do whatever it takes!’ We have all done it. We will all do it again. Real success, team safety, comes when we work to keep each other safe. ‘Let me help you with that; let me come with you when you pull boards at night or break ice; don’t forget forgot your safety glasses; back away while I raise this load.’ We have all managed to do it together for a full year. We will all come in tomorrow and work at doing it again. Great job on everyone’s part! Way to keep each other safe!”

CEO Bill Haines is especially pleased, and as a reward, we all got to go home a little early last week! “The team is working long hard days to get stuff done, just like all of us. And it’s a credit to them that they’ve done it safely and everyone goes home at the end of the day healthy,” he says.

Congratulations on another job well done, guys!

Pine Island Team Profiles – Nick Alber

On Monday, Pine Island welcomed new Accounting Manager Nick Alber to the office team!

“Hiring good people is one of the most important things a company does,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann. “It is also one of the most challenging things a company does. With the help of a headhunter, several candidates were identified to fill our position in accounting and HR, a very important position in the organization. During the interview with Nick, it was obvious that he was a humble, straight-forward person; someone who was willing to do what it takes. He expressed interest in being challenged and growing with the company, helping to find ways to make both better.”

Nick, a county native and a graduate of Monmouth University, was looking for a change and was “drawn to working in a new industry,” he says. As part of the hiring process, he took a tour of the property and found it fascinating. “It’s interesting to see the the whole operation from the ground up and starting to learn how everything works,” he says.

“Nick is a well-rounded individual, both in personality and knowledge,” says CFO Joann Martin. “He has a diverse experience in the accounting field that will allow us to grow to the level of sophistication that we’ve been striving to achieve. With Nick on board, we’ll be able to improve everyday processes as well as collaborate on analysis and projection projects.”

Nick’s looking forward to his first harvest, but most of this first week is learning all of the various office procedures for payroll, accounts payable, and various other tasks he’s been assigned. But we feel confident that he’ll rise to the challenge!

Heat – summer 2017

We’ve had pretty standard New Jersey summer weather this year, but now that bloom is done and the vines are bearing fruit, our team is starting to focus on managing the heat. Once the fruit is formed, it’s important to keep them from what we term “scalding”. Scald occurs when the temperature is high but the dew point (humidity) is low; as Dr. Peter Oudemans likes to say, “When people are comfortable, the cranberries are in trouble.”

When humidity is low, applied water will readily evaporate and cool the fruit. During the day, if temperatures get up to around 95 degrees, we will turn on the irrigation in order to cool the bog down to the 80s. We’ll run the pumps for about an hour or two, depending on variables such as wind, temperature, and humidity. There is also a distinct difference between sending water through the root system and keeping the bog cool. The trick is avoiding complications from too much moisture, which can cause conditions that are welcoming to fungi such as phytophthora, which causes root rot. Vines shouldn’t be damp all the time; it’s a balancing act to keep the fruit at optimum growth conditions while avoiding oversaturation. The key to walking the tightrope is constant evaluation and always being aware of bog conditions.

“This year we’re waiting until we get a little more color on the fruit,” says Operations Manager Matt Giberson. “We ran irrigation a little bit in the early season just because the new vegetative growth was pretty tender, and the heat can cause that to wilt pretty quickly. We try to give them about 45 minutes at that stage. When the fruit starts to turn red is when we really start the heat run.” The weather has also been mostly cooperative: “Yesterday was hot but cloudy and humid; we felt like were dying out there but the plants were fine!” Communication is also key: “Mike [Haines] and I stay in contact all day long to make sure we’re on the same page.”

Once color is established, the team is looking into something new: kaolin clay treatment. “It’s applied via plane or buggy, and it’s supposed to help with sun scald,” Matt says. “Peter suggested it some time ago, but we needed to do some planning and think about possible side effects.” One concern with clay is that a heavy summer rain could wash it right off the plants, though we haven’t seen much rain, considering. “Rain-wise we could use a good inch! But at a slow rate, not an inch in ten minutes. That would be really nice!”

While the weather is unfortunately outside of our control, our team does its best every day to anticipate the possible effects!

Work anniversary: Louis Cantafio

Today we’re celebrating an anniversary: Facilities/Equipment Manager Louis Cantafio has been here for five years this week!

What we said about Louis not long after he started:

Louis, a former land manager with the Franklin Parker Preserve, has been here since early July and is greatly enjoying his time here so far. He says, “Every day it’s always something new and something different.” Mechanic Ernie Waskiewicz agrees: “It’s fun because it’s not the same thing every day, and you’re doing something that needs to be done.” With three advanced degrees, Louis enjoys learning for learning’s sake and is having a good time picking up all the ins and outs of the cranberry business. He was initially attracted to the scale of things at Pine Island, and from his time in the area (he and his wife live in Chatsworth in a house they designed and he built himself) he knows many of our team members and how they both work hard and have a good time. Louis also believes in continuous improvement; in many ways, starting from scratch here has been a help to him in his work. He doesn’t believe in doing things in a particular way just because they’ve always been done that way; he likes finding out why things are done and then finding ways to improve them if need be, whether it’s ordering parts, purchasing equipment, or analyzing standard practices. And he’ll do whatever it takes to help achieve our company goals, pitching in wherever he’s needed.

What some of us are saying about Louis now:

Mike Haines:

I admire Louis’ dedication to his work – he’s always going to come in early and stay late if he needs to. You can always rely on him to make sure the job’s done and it’s done right.

Matt Giberson (aka “Cute Matt”…according to Louis’ wife):

Louis has the unprecedented ability to make you smile. He does whatever it takes to make our team better, and is way too witty for his own good.

Debra Signorelli:

Words that describe Louis: intelligent, funny, productive, energetic…and slightly controlling! Really, though…he is a pleasure to work with.

For his part, Louis is happy! “I think in the past five years, we’re doing more and doing it better, and that’s down to everybody’s hard work. The way I see it, the shop is really a facilitation program; we’re responsible for making sure all of our other teams have all the tools and materials and equipment they need. Matt can’t run his team if the planter doesn’t run; bog reno stalls if the pumps aren’t working. And it’s very satisfying to be part of something much larger than myself. I like the work, I like the challenge, and it’s a great team to be a part of.”

And he plans to stick around for a while, too. “I’m having a blast; I’m not going anywhere. If Bill wants to fire me, he’s going to have to do it two or three times!”

Quail project update – June 2017

As you may remember, New Jersey Audubon was here this spring for the third-stage release in the Northern Bobwhite Restoration Initiative.

The most exciting news from this month: the field researchers have discovered an active nest close to the Sim Place release site!

“We are working to create permanence with Northern Bobwhite in New Jersey,” said John Parke, Stewardship Project Director – North Region, NJA. “In reviewing the data collected over the last few years and seeing these wild birds adapt to their new surroundings and successfully nest is a testament to how important active management is to maintain forest health and wildlife diversity,” Parke said. “The Northern Bobwhite Restoration Initiative has implications for quail recovery in the Mid-Atlantic, is providing information on other species that use these same managed forest habitat, and is motivating others to implement forest management. We are excited by the progress of the project, the hard work of the project partners and collaborators and eager to see Bobwhite thrive again in New Jersey,” he added.

According to John, predator surveys have been fairly low, though snakes are always a concern. But Phil Coppola and the rest of the University of Delaware research team will continue tracking the birds and keeping tabs on the nest, and are hoping to bring us good news soon! In the meantime, though, we’re all enjoying the opportunity to once again hear the bobwhite quail once again calling in the pines.

This has been a great opportunity for Pine Island Cranberry to work with so many organizations who love the pines as much as we do, and it’s wonderful seeing the Bobwhite quail making themselves at home here once again.

*Photos courtesy of John Parke and Phil Coppola.

Bees – summer 2017

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.

“This year we have 980 acres in production,” says manager Mike Haines. “We try to bring in 2 colonies per acre, which means we have approximately 1,960 colonies total this year. We brought in the first bees around the first of the month; the Crimson Queen variety over at Oswego was the earliest bloom. Then a couple days ago we brought in the last of the bees for the Early Blacks at Caley and Red Road as well as the Early Blacks at Sim Place, three weeks after the first colonies came in. It’s been really interesting to see the variation in bloom time.” Timing is important; 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. “At the lake it’s almost time to take them out; there’s not a whole lot of flower left and the fruit is sizing up already,” Mike says. “For both our sake as well as the beekeepers, we want to get the colonies out when they’re done working. Without as much to feed on, it’s more stressful for them and they’ll also try to go elsewhere.”

Research has shown that honeybees are competent at pollinating cranberry flowers as long as the weather remains satisfactory, according to the USDA, and so far, even with the rains this week, they’ve been doing very well!

Pine Island Team Profiles: Larry Wedemeyer

Well-maintained, consistently available equipment and facilities that are fully operational are instrumental to Pine Island’s daily efficiency and the success of our operation, and our Facilities and Equipment team is one of the best around! This week, we welcomed a new member of our Equipment team: Larry Wedemeyer stepped up to fill the welder position.

Larry hasn’t worked in agriculture before, but is looking forward to the challenge. “I’m a fabricator by trade; I like to build things with my hands,” he says. “I like being able to make something out of nothing.” He went to school through the military in Aberdeen, Maryland, and got certified through the Navy two years ago. Originally from Freehold and now a resident of Browns Mills, moving to the area has been a bit of a culture shock! (Though we probably can’t sway him to root for the Phillies or the Eagles, we will eventually manage to get him to say “pork roll” instead of “Taylor ham”, and are feeling fairly confident that he too will eventually be ordering “wooder ice”, just like the rest of us.) There’s a lot of work to catch up with, but Larry is ready: “They’re going to have me on anything and everything; whatever they throw at me, I’ll fix.”

Manager Louis Cantafio was impressed with Larry’s commitment to the community as a member of his local fire department. “Any position here is a tough position to have open, and this one’s been open for a while. What I liked about Larry was that even though he was between jobs, he was still volunteering in his community. I know that volunteer departments require a lot of training and a lot of time giving back, and that spoke to his character. And his chief gave him a great recommendation.”

COO Bryan vonHahmann is also pleased to see Larry having a good start. “We clearly saw that he had the talent for welding and he had a lot of enthusiam, so that was all good. When he toured the shop, he looked at the welding area and asked if we minded if he changed some things around for better organization. That was encouraging, because it meant he’s someone who takes pride in what they do and ownership of his work area.” Bryan’s also seen some of his work and says it looks fantastic. “He’s starting with some of the irrigation work, and then we’re going to pick up with some of the harvest equipment. We’re building two new blower tractors, which will require some new design work because they’re a different model.”

We’re looking forward to see what Larry does with them, and will be sure to keep you posted!

Joan Davenport – May 2017

Every year around this time, we get a visit from soil scientist 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.

“I’m still trying to learn about cranberry nutrition myself, so it’s always a good visit,” says manager Mike Haines. “We try to cover the whole farm section by section, accounting for variety, location, if a bed has been sanded this year . . .if it hasn’t been sanded for a while that will affect requirements, as well. We also look at crop size the previous year. We’ll try to cover all of those things and then get her thoughts, as well as go over our decisions that we’ve already made this season. For example, Nadine had a big crop in 2016 and we’ve already made some nitrogen applications, and Joan thought that was the right call.” Conversely, he says, it’s also good to know when she disagrees on a decision and why. “This way, we can apply her advice throughout the rest of the season.” Mike also likes seeing her take on other issues as well. “We had some frost damage so I had some questions about that,” he says. “Do we reduce the amount of fertilizer since theoretically the crop potential has decreased? Because we don’t want to put a lot of fertilizer on just for vegetative growth.”

Joan also took a look at our younger beds. “To evaluate new plantings for fertilizer needs, there are slightly different strategies depending on the age of the planting and whether the planting was made from pressed in vines or using rooted cuttings,” she says. “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. 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. Using rooted cuttings means that while the plant must still develop a root system in the soil it is planted into, it does not need to utilize the matter stored in the leaves and wood to initiate and grow leaves – this has already occurred. Thus, when rooted cuttings are planted, there is about 1/2 of a growing season “gained”, however it still remains best for focus on roots plus runner development in years 1 & 2. This is an advantage over the use of pressed in vines, where there is a ‘cost’ to the cutting to establish the root system.”

“We’re all kind of learning the nutritional requirements for new Rutgers hybrids along with her,” Mike says. “We’ve been slowly increasing the amount of fertilizer from year to year, which makes sense since the newer varieties were bred to produce a larger crop. For example, with a bed of Early Blacks, we might put 25 lbs of nitrogen per acre, but double that for Crimson Queen.”

Overall, it was another productive visit with Joan, and we’re looking forward to seeing her again this summer!