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!

Pine Island Team Profiles – Justin Ross

This week, we profile one of our newer team members, Justin Ross! Justin came to us from Nebraska last July and has quickly become an important member of our integrated crop management [ICM] program.

“It was interesting how it all came about,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann. “Justin and his wife were moving to Philly from Nebraska for her education. It comes down to luck and timing; we interviewed Justin and felt he would be a good fit, having a lot of farm experience and willing to do whatever needed to be done. He’s taking over managing the airstrip and most of the applications; he picked it up quickly and is doing well.”

“Running the airstrip is a huge job and it’s where Justin’s going to be spending a huge bulk of his time from now to mid-August,” says Mike Haines. “It’s a hard job, too. He has to be here at the crack of dawn. Some days we can’t fly due to weather conditions, but he still needs to be here in case the fog lifts or the rain stops or whatever else might be going on in case they can get in the air. He’s doing great so far, and the guys from Downstown really like him, too.” While running the airstrip is a big job, Justin is also learning about other other methods of application. “That’s big, because the more people we have doing that the better,” Mike says. “[Matt] Stiles has been doing a lot of it but now we have Justin and our new hire Mike taking on some of that, which is great!”

Justin is also learning topography and bog design, which includes learning about irrigation system design from Jeremy Fenstermaker. “One of his first jobs here was working with me,” Jeremy says. “He’s been learning a lot about design and layout. It’s nice working with him because he has a farming background and brings a fresh perspective. A lot of us can get set in our ways and tend to overly rely on the way that we always do things, but he has a good eye and has given us some great suggestions for improving our efficiency. A lot of stuff I have to do I couldn’t do without his help. And he does what he has to do; when you tell him to do something you never have to follow up to make sure it’s done.”

We’re glad to have another great addition to the best team in the business, and look forward to seeing more of his ideas in action as the growing season progresses.

Heavy weather – spring 2018

While southern New Jersey hasn’t had a storm that’s been as heavy as other areas in the Northeast, we’ve still received more than our share of rain in the last week, which means our team has had to make some changes to our daily plan to compensate.

“If we get two inches tomorrow we’ll have people working indoors,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann. “It all needs to get done, but we’d like some projects to get done faster. But we can’t control the weather, so we’re making alternative plans depending on how much it hold us up. Up until now I’d say the rain was a good thing for us, but the next 2 to 3 inches I don’t think we need!”

One way it’s slowing us down: the current bog renovation. “We’ve had to switch things around a little because we don’t want to wreck the dams or the bogs we’re renovating,” Bryan says. “We have the Hydremas still plugging away but they’re hauling away less per load.” Bog renovation manager Steve Manning has made changes as necessary, however. “We’re still putting the subsoil in, but we’re holding off on the top sand, which in turn is holding up putting the pipe in and all that,” Steve says. “We can still screen sand in this weather, though, which is good. So in the meantime, we’re moving equipment around as needed, and we’ll probably do some work tomorrow for the canal we’re putting in.”

Our team has also had to make some changes to the fertilizer applications. “We should be doing those right now, but it will wash through soil faster, and the planes can’t fly when it’s overcast anyway,” Bryan says. “So if it clears up in time, the current plan will be to fly on Sunday.”

While some tasks are being held up, there have been some advantages. “We’re still doing a lot of scouting,” says Matt Stiles. “It’s actually been a help; we can walk the bog and see what needs to be fixed much more easily, particularly anywhere the drainage in a bog isn’t quite right.”

Water, as always, is a particular concern, but while we’ve had quite a bit of rain it hasn’t been more than the team can handle. “We’re keeping the reservoirs well below where we normally hold them,” says Matt Giberson. “It’s actually a little easier right now because with the rain and the warmer weather, we haven’t had to run for frost, so we can be a bit more aggressive with reservoirs and canals and just keep a eye on things in case we do get a big rain.” So far the farm has had about 3.2 inches this week, and they’re calling for another 2 to 4 over the next couple of days. Fortunately, Matt says, “It’s been steady but it hasn’t been dramatic. So we’ve just been trying to maintain dams ahead of time, crowning them when we can and fixing any erosion where it comes down really hard. But they’ve been in fairly decent shape; we haven’t really had a downpour so far, just half an inch here, half an inch there. And there hasn’t been any washout on the young beds, which is great.”

It all comes down to flexibility! Farming is all about doing what you have to do when you when it’s time to do it, and our team makes sure to plan for every possible outcome.

Bog renovation – spring 2018

Our spring 2018 planting is completed, and our team has already turned their attention to the next acreage in our multiyear bog renovation plan. This year, we plan to renovate over fifty acres at Cedar Swamp and Ben Haines.

Bog renovation is a time-consuming and capital-intensive but necessary project that will increase both yield and quality by improving bog and irrigation design. First, our team redesigns the layout, deciding how to best work with the surrounding water resources for maximum land use efficiency. They reshape some beds, remove the old vines, and do the initial leveling to prep the soil.

As we like to say so often, the three things most important to growing cranberries are water, water, and more water. Currently, the team is hard at work on the irrigation improvements. Effective bed drainage is critical, especially in New Jersey, where the humid climate can provide a favorable environment for Phytophthora cinnamomi, a known cause of root rot. Other improvements to the water system will include new gates, rebuilt ditches, and relocation of pumps, if necessary. As part of our irrigation redesign, and with the redesign of some of the beds, it’s sometimes necessary to make some changes in order to maximize water flow to the pump. Relocation of the pump houses is also helpful for improved access, both for refueling and repairs.

Bog renovation is a key component to maintaining Pine Island’s core values of continuous improvement, continuous growth, and protecting the environment. Increasing production over time through bog renovation and decreasing the time to achieve full production is essential to accomplish our growth objectives.

Work Anniversary – Ernie Waszkiewicz

Last week marked Facilities/Equipment team member Ernie Waszkiewicz’s ten-year work anniversary at Pine Island!

“Ernie does a lot of field work, a lot of fabricating, a lot with the irrigation systems,” says his manager, Louis Cantafio. “He’s always busy; we need more like him. He has a lot of interesting experience under his belt, and spends time working with the other guys, helping them with stuff when needed. He’s great with getting things going right away; a lot of times when something breaks, it’s something we need right now and getting it into the shop for a lengthy repair just won’t be feasible. So he’s really good at making stuff go now that has to go now, which is great for everyone. He’s also been doing the installs for our ongoing automation project; that’s been three years now. It’s an incredible amount of work: a lot of wiring and a lot of modifying the system to make it all go together. I have nothing but nice things to say; I’m glad when he’s here, and a little nervous when he’s not.” Louis also notes one of his own top priorities: “And I can’t forget: he makes a nice pot of coffee!”

Fellow team members have high praise for Ernie as well: his other shop team members mention his being a great worker as well as a great teammate. “He always bails everyone out when they need to be bailed out,” Coco Mercado says. “If you need help, he’s right there pitching in.” Jeremy Fenstermaker agrees: “Ernie is a great guy to work with, and a great guy to hang out with; He’s always there for you. No matter the situation, he gives his all. He’d give you the sleeveless shirt off of his back. I’m glad to know him as a colleague and a friend!”

“Ernie: the man in black!” says CEO Bill Haines. “Ernie’s a great member of the team. His versatility makes him highly valuable; he’s a mechanic, he’s a welder, he’s a troubleshooter, he does whatever it takes. On frost night, if you need him, he’s there getting stuff going. He’s part of the team that has actually reduced the amount of call-outs we have every night. People don’t have to get out on a frost night because of stuff that’s ready to go, and that’s the way it should be. He’s a big part of that. He shows up every day, and I never have to worry about it. And he gets along with people; I enjoy having him on the team.”

Thanks for everything you do, Ernie!

We’re Hiring!: Supervisor of Technology and Precision Agriculture

Pine Island Cranberry is hiring! Our team is looking for a Supervisor of Technology and Precision Agriculture, a new position created to assist our Integrated Crop Management program.

As longtime readers know well, one of our core values is continuous improvement–doing everything we do better every day–and part of that is researching and implementing new technology to increase our efficiency! “As things are becoming more intricate and we’re trying to push more toward precision agriculture, we are looking at two different things,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann. “First, how to collect and use our data better to share information that we can base our decisions on, and second, how technology can help us with efficiency. Our big focus over the past few years has been automating the pump systems and having sensors in the beds. Now we’re thinking about how we supplement our scouting; that would be with drones. We felt that with that, and with everything we have going on, it’d be great if we had an internal position for it. It’s a little different than most IT people are looking for, but should be an interesting challenge for the right person.”

The team members are looking forward to having someone new on board. “With the Joe Lord system, it’s obviously a lot more tech than we used to have,” says manager Matt Giberson. “We’ve gone from analog thermometers to being able to check everything on a cell phone or iPad. Having someone new will be a huge help; we currently have a lot of communication going on at night with our frost team, comparing the analog readings to what Lord is telling us. And having someone right here, hands-on, benefits our communication in the long run; if we have someone who can teach us more about it, or if we have an issue, he or she is right here, instead of calling Joe, who’s 1500 miles away.”

“The way agriculture and most industries are going right now, there are tools are becoming available that are a lot better at collecting data,” says Mike Haines. “We’ve always collected data here, and we’re improving year to year. We’ve taken big steps the last few years implementing the Lord systems, but the people working on it have other things they’re working on, as well. It’s definitely not my area of expertise! Bryan knows a lot about this kind of thing, but he’s also super busy, so we want someone to help us use this new tech to its full capacity. For example, we’re doing remote starts on all the pumps these days. We’re checking the thermometers, we’re compiling the temperature data . . . but what we want to do on a large scale here is cycling for frost protection. That means we can turn the water on and off over the course of the night, instead of just starting the pump when the temperature hits 32 degrees and then running the pump all night. Cycling will save money on fuel and throw less water on the beds, which is always good; our current process overwaters way too much. It’s stuff like that that we need someone to work on as well as research other things; it’s easy to get stuck in our own bubble, so it’s always a good idea to see what other industries are doing and how we can adapt that to our own operation.”

One of the things Mike is especially interested in: drone research. “Drones will be big in the future for scouting purposes. Right now we scout the old fashioned way: by walking through the beds looking at stuff. Three people taking notes on 1400 acres is tough; in practice it usually means making decisions based on five percent of the farm. But with drones you can see more in less time, and you’ll also have someone there who can analyze the data.”

Click here for a job description and an application for this position!

Water drawdown – 2018

Spring finally appears to be hanging in there, which means it’s time to start removing the winter flood! We’ve said it so often you can probably recite it with us by now: good water management is absolutely critical to growing cranberries. Growers rely on a clean, abundant supply to maintain the bogs year round. The key question, as everyone here knows by heart, is “Where is the water coming from, and where do you want it to go?”

Once the harvest is over, the bogs are flooded in order to protect the cranberry vines from the winter weather. When the warmer weather sets in, the bogs are drained so that the dormant vines awaken for the growing season; while cranberries are most frequently harvested using the “wet pick” method, they do not actually grow under water and thus need to go through the same growing cycle as any other fruit crop. The process, which we call “dumping water” is deceptively simple: a team member takes a gate hook (pictured below) and removes the boards that have been placed across the gate in the bog. (The boards are removed in a specific pattern to work with gravity and the natural flow of the water.) Once the boards have been pulled and placed on top of the gate, the water moves to the next bog along the ditches. This water returns to the reservoirs and canals in order to be reused for the next part of the cycle. It takes about 24 hours to drain completely.

“We started the early draw the last week of March, but we decided to put it back on again in some of the Crimson Queen beds,” says Matt Giberson. “We decided we’re going to leave those on later this year, due to issues last year with them getting overripe. But the TAcy was right where it we needed to be so we thought we’d leave the water on to help with rot prevention.” (TAcy is an acronym for “total anthocyanin concentration” and is a unit of color measurement used in a cranberry.) The drawdown started in earnest on the first of April. “We’re shooting for 6 to 7 systems a day by the 25th because we’re going to start planting Cedar Swamp on the 23rd,” Matt says. He’s also trying to balance the needs of the frost team: “I’m trying to keep the focus on the home farm and leave Sim Place till last,” he says. “Sim Place is always a cold spot, so if we don’t have to make someone drive over there for frost I feel better. This week we’re working on the center of the home farm and west of Route 563 this week, and from there we’ll hit the systems at Red Road and Caley before we move on to Sim Place.”

After the water comes off, team member Waldy Blanco goes out with his crew to install sprinklers and make sure the irrigation systems are 100% by turning on the system and letting it run for a while. Then they’ll clean out the nozzles, see where we need to make repairs, and turn the system back on to make sure the repairs worked. Running the system for a bit also helps the team make sure that any potential engine problems are taken care of by the Facilities/Equipment team. It’s important for this to be done as soon as possible for frost protection. Typically, a cranberry bog is built at a lower level than the land immediately surrounding it and the bog temperature can drop ten to fifteen degrees lower than the uplands. These conditions make monitoring bog temperature a top priority once the winter water comes off, which is why installing sprinklers quickly and efficiently is so important.

Right now, the weather appears to be cooperating, and everything seems to be on track for the cold nights coming up in the next week or so!

Work anniversary – Jeremy Fenstermaker

Last month another one of our valued team members celebrated a work anniversary: Jeremy Fenstermaker has been here at Pine Island for fifteen years! Jeremy is both versatile and affable, which makes him a valuable resource for everyone at Pine Island from CEO Bill Haines all the way down to your humble blogger.

ICM manager Mike Haines has worked closely with Jeremy since coming on board full time. “I mainly work with Jeremy on growing decisions. The great thing about Jeremy really is his versatility; he’s so knowledgeable about just so many different aspects of the farm, and he’s taught me a lot about growing decisions over the past couple years. He’s got so much experience with building bogs, renovation, water management, harvest . . . he knows a lot. And the great thing is, he has no problem with sharing that knowledge; he genuinely wants to help you learn, and is very willing to work together to teach new guys. When I first started, it was all pretty new to me. I’d worked with cranberries some, but making decisions about fertilizer, for example, was tough at first. A lot of the things we need to look for with plant nutrition are very subtle, so having Jeremy explain using knowledge gained from his own past experience has been hugely informative. He knows exactly what decisions he’s made in the past and the effect those decisions have had: he’s dealt with it, paid attention, learned it really well, and it’s just a big confidence booster to have him says ‘yeah, that sounds about right’ or ‘based on my experience this is what I would do.’ He’s easy to work with, and he’s also just fun, which is great when you’re working long days or in bad weather. It makes days go by quickly and pleasantly.”

While COO Bryan vonHahmann has only been here for four years, he’s impressed with Jeremy’s work. “I think he’s grown with Pine Island both personally and professionally over the time I’ve worked with him,” Bryan says. “He’s a bright guy, very intelligent, and finding the perfect position for his skills and abilities has been good for both Pine Island and him.” There are drawbacks for this, of course: “He’s often wanted for consulting on various things regarding growth and irrigation, among other things, but he already has a lot to do,” Bryan says. “So what we need to do is build that support for him by training other people and let him focus on certain areas. He’s got a tremendous skill set: harvest, designing bogs and irrigation systems, just growing the crop. His main focus now is bog design and irrigation consulting, and it’s been a win-win for both him and for the company.”

“Jeremy’s valuable in a lot of ways,” says Bill Haines. “His knowledge of growing cranberries has been a huge asset to Mike, and particularly valuable, as far as I’m concerned, in his contribution to the growth program. He’s been very creative about redesigning the bogs to make them more efficient for harvest, for use of water, and in general. And his redesign of a lot of our old irrigation systems is making us much more efficient, because we’re using less water but we’re getting better coverage and as a result, better crops. He’s thoughtful, he’s analytical, he’s patient, and an extremely valuable member of the team. And he’s a pretty funny guy, too!”

His main drawback appears to be that he’s a Steelers fan, but nobody’s perfect. Thanks for all of your hard work over the past fifteen years, Jeremy; we appreciate you more than you know!

Quail release – 2018

Exciting stuff: this week, New Jersey Audubon, in partnership with 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!

This year, a “bonus” year for the study, has a slightly different focus. Per the NJA:

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.

“There is so much underlying variability inherent in biological systems, which often makes their study difficult through short-term “snapshot” research projects,” said Philip Coppola, University of Delaware Graduate Research Assistant. “This fourth consecutive year of translocations will add essential data to the project, allowing us to more accurately describe the population dynamics of Bobwhite in New Jersey. Increasing our knowledge and understanding of all the elements influencing quail survival and success will increase effectiveness and efficiency during large-scale reintroduction efforts in the future. We will gain perspective on what truly are the limiting factors in bobwhite reintroduction and address the probable causes of their initial functional extirpation within the state; thus, this research also has implications for their national conservation and recovery. Additionally, this fourth year provides field training and development for even more entry-level wildlife biologists in the Mid-Atlantic, who will be instrumental in regional wildlife conservation efforts in the future.”

For our part, as always, we’re pleased to see this fantastic project carry on for another year and are glad our forest stewardship and habitat practices continue to benefit the woods, water, and wildlife!

* Photos courtesy of John Parke.