Winter work

In addition to sanding, our team is working on some of our other usual winter tasks. Running three sanding crews means that a lot of team members are busy, but there are still other things to do!

Harvest time can be tough on our dams, as well as wet weather, so our team has been doing some maintenance work on them this week. Some dams are really only used during harvest, and if they get any ruts in a heavy rain, it’s usually fine. But the ones everyone uses most can deteriorate quickly, pushing out both water and sand; proper maintenance now is much more efficient than trying to fix the problem later. In some instances, all we really need is to pass over it with the scraper.

Our bog renovation, of course, is always ongoing, and when it’s wet outside, some team members will be indoors assembling sprinklers for the new renovation as well as repairing old sprinklers: replacing worn out nozzles, springs, and sprinkler heads.

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. The facilities/equipment team usually has several projects going at once, assisting the sanding operation, the bog renovation team, and working on building upkeep, as well as doing all the necessary equipment maintenance in order to be prepared for the growing season and beyond.

Sanding 2020

Winter tasks are well underway! The winter flooding has begun, which means that it’s once again time to start sanding.

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Sanding is a fundamental component of our Pine Island Integrated Crop Management (PIICM) program, helping us manage the relationship between water, soil, weather, disease, insects, weeds, and nutrition. Sanding is a process where we apply a thin layer of sand on the bog surface every four years on a rotating basis: one inch for established bogs, a half-inch for young bogs. This procedure helps improve growth and yield by stimulating the development of new uprights (covering the base of the roots strengthens the root system and creates a more healthy vine) while also suppressing disease and reducing insects (by burying weed seed, spores, and insect eggs). It also improves soil drainage while at the same time absorbing and releasing heat so that frost danger in spring is lessened. This increases our efficiency by lowering the need for extra plant nutrition as well as saving water by cutting down frost irrigation times.

The routine usually remains the same every year. First, we check water levels: our team needs to make sure the water is the right depth so our sanding barge doesn’t get stuck on any vines or worse, tear them out. Also, the sand needs to be as pure as possible in order to prevent soil compaction (which can restrict water and limit growth) so we screen our sand before using it on the barge to take out any clay, stones, or other debris which could cause problems.

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Our team begins to prep a couple of days beforehand by checking to see how much the water level needs to come up. The day before the crew arrives, a supervisor will get the water to sanding level (high enough to cover all vines) and measure out the distance the sander will travel. The crew will begin to sand on the deepest side. The water level can then be adjusted if necessary, which helps with dam conservation. They also send the necessary equipment out to the sanding location. A tractor with a winch is on one side of the bog, ready to move the length of the bog; an excavator is on the opposite side of the bog. The cable from the winch is stretched across the bog, through the sander (which has been lifted and put in the bog next to the excavator), and connected to the excavator.

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The process itself is simple: a truck is loaded with sand, then heads over to the bog being sanded, backs up to the excavator, and drops the load into our specially built sandbox (designed to improve efficiency and reduce waste). The excavator operator then loads the hopper of the sander, while the sander operator moves along the cable, adjusting the opening for the sand to fall. The process is repeated, with the excavator and tractor moving forward the length of the bog together.

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They’ve also been trying a new method for the edges. Because the sanders can only come up to the dam to for a fresh load of sand, there’s a distance from the ditches at both the beginning and end of the dam which can be missed. We’d purchased a used side-discharge manure spreader to fill in the gaps a couple years ago and retrofitted it to slow it down, then did a fair amount of experimenting. “We weren’t really impressed with the results,” says manager Mike Haines. Now the team is trying a new method, similar to the basic sanding method, using equipment that we already have on hand. “We’re keeping an eye on it and will make adjustments to the barge if we think that we’re getting a lot of overlap and putting too much down.”

Our team has already hit approximately one-third of their sanding targets for the year! “The weather’s been really cooperative,” Mike says. “The barges have had to break through some ice in the mornings, and we missed a day this week because the sand was freezing, but we’re running three crews and that’s really helping us move along.”

Pine Island Team Retirements: Jorge Morales

It’s hard to believe, but this week we said goodbye to Jorge Morales , who is retiring after 43 years here at Pine Island Cranberry!

Jorge started with us as a seasonal team member in 1976, and moved to full time in November the following year. In that time, Jorge has done every job there was to do on this place. CEO Bill Haines tried putting that into numbers for the assembled team. “Jorge mowed a lot of dams for us. When you think of how we have over 100 miles of dams, and some years we mow them four times, he’s easily mowed thousands of miles of dams. He’s hauled dirt and gravel, sand for bogs, and cranberries to Chatsworth or to our own packing house, and that adds up to thousands of miles in 43 years. Between frost nights and heat watch, he’s unplugged hundreds, if not thousands of sprinklers. He’s helped put in hundreds of gates. And that doesn’t include building bogs or installing irrigation. In 1975, we put in our first ever irrigation system. So since 1977, Jorge has actually helped install irrigation for the entire farm; as we’ve rebuilt or refurbished, he’s helped with that too.”

But Bill saved the most amazing numbers for the end. “Jorge’s first harvest was in 1976 as a seasonal guy. Since that first crop in 1976, he’s helped us pick 8,792,648 barrels of cranberries. Now, that’s an important number to us in the industry, but not everyone knows what it means; it’s even more impressive when you find out that it means Jorge has helped harvest 879,264,800 pounds of cranberries over 43 years.”

“It’s impressive, the amount of work he’s helped us to do,” Bill said to the team this week at Jorge’s farewell lunch. “Along with his wife Mildred, he’s raised a family of four kids – and Mildred deserves a lot of credit for that – and through all of that, he’s been cheerful no matter what we ask him to do. No matter the weather, through the heat, the cold, heavy rain, or snow, he’s always positive, always cheerful, always raised the atmosphere and the morale of the whole team.”

“You can be proud of the fact that you were a part of this team for so many years,” Bill said to Jorge. “You’re part of the family that’s been here for so long; your father-in-law, your brothers, Mildred’s brothers. I’m proud of the fact that people like you work for Pine Island; what you’ve contributed we’ll never forget. You’ve made a difference, Jorge, and we all appreciate it.”

And what did Jorge, the man who is never, ever short of a word, say in his address to us all?

“Thank you, everybody.”

Thank you, Jorge! We’ll all miss you very much, and wish you nothing but the best. Come back and see us!

Preventative measures: swans

A niche crop like cranberries often has niche challenges! One of the toughest of those might be surprising to some people: the tundra swan. Tundra swans migrate to the area every year from Alaska and northwestern Canada and are particularly fond of red root, a weed that competes with cranberry vines for nutrients. When they fly in to feed, they not only tear out the red root, they also tear out vines and leave enormous holes that damage the beds themselves.

Since the swans are a protected species, growers have had to come up with a harmless solution to keep them safely away from the bogs. At Pine Island our PIICM team has been installing swan string for several years. The strings help keep the swans out of the bog by limiting the space available. “Swans are like a commercial airliner,” CEO Bill Haines says. “Having the strings up disrupts their attempt to both land and take off again.” Not all of the bogs are strung; our team maps them out where we have found red root and where the swans have been spotted. Just three acres of swan damage can give us a loss of 200 barrels per acre, or even more, depending on the variety. That takes three years to come back.

When setting up swan string, the team places rebar in the ground along the longer sides of a bog, about every 75 feet. On the ends of the bog, the team walks it out and determines how many lines they’ll need to run lengthwise though the center. Once the rods are laid out on the dam, a team of three to five people gets into the bog and walks the string across. Once the entire bog is strung, the team goes back in and puts up poles, which are used to keep the strings out of the water so that they don’t freeze. They’re placed in a checkered pattern, not necessarily on every line. The poles can either be cedar posts or recycled irrigation pipe. In addition to the recycling/environmental aspect, reusing the irrigation line is lighter and easier to handle.

This year, our team installed almost one million feet of swan string, which come out to about one hundred and eighty-seven miles. That’s a lot of walking!

Our team has also adopted a backup method in the past few years: an Agrilaser. From their website:

Deterring pest birds from open and semi-open spaces has long posed a costly and nagging challenge to property owners and managers. While noisemakers like propane cannons can scatter bird pests, they can also be disruptive and must be repeated often to keep birds from coming back. Lethal means of bird control—poisons, pellet guns and inhumane traps—are illegal in many areas, as many birds are protected by law. Bird B Gone’s Agrilaser® provides an effective, humane solution. It uses advanced, patented optical laser-beam technology to harmlessly repel pest birds over great distances—up to 2,000 meters. The handheld device is silent and completely portable. Pest birds react to the green beam as they would an approaching car, so they flee the area. Yet, unlike some deterrent devices, birds will not get used to the laser beam’s implied threat.

With some trial and error around timing and placement, our team found that it does have some effect. This year, the plan is to use the laser during the brief period that string has temporarily been removed from the beds we’re sanding. “You’d think they’d stay away with all the equipment around, but they don’t,” says Matt Giberson. “But since it’s been effective the past couple of years, it’s good to have a backup to keep both the bogs and the birds safe.”

Winter flood 2019

The winter flood has begun!

The cranberry growing season lasts from April to November; the fruiting buds mature during the winter dormancy period. During the dormant season, severe winter weather could harm or even kill cranberry vines, which is why growers must take preventative measures to protect their crop. Under normal conditions, the temperature steadily drops post-harvest; it is important to wait until the vines go dormant before starting to put the water on. When vines go dormant, they turn burgundy in color:

Our winter flood program starts with making sure the water in the reservoirs is at the level we need. If there has no been significant rain to get the reservoirs to flooding level, we start our wells. We will continue to use the wells to maintain the reservoirs and the stream needed to get the bogs flooded.

The next step is placing boards in the gates to start bringing the water level up in the bogs, much like we do to prep for the flooding at harvest in the fall. “There’s a lot to know. How the water works, where it’s coming from, where it has to go, how to move it the most efficient way,” says Matt Giberson. “It’s not something you learn overnight.” In practice, this means constant awareness and monitoring of where the water is coming from, where it is going, and how much stream is coming down.

Flooding starts by letting in streams from the reservoirs to canals and bogs. Strategic board placement (more boards in the southernmost bogs to catch the water) will get the ditches high and running down to start flooding from the bottom up.

As the water level in the bogs begins to rise, our team begins adjusting the water level in the bogs by adding boards where they are needed. Once the vines are covered and the stream has settled, we adjust the level of the reservoirs to maintain the stream and keep the bogs flooded for the winter. Wells are shut down once bogs are flooded, and only turned on again if it is dry and reservoir levels are dropping.

It is also necessary to make sure we are not losing water anywhere. “Sometimes you can hear the water coming through a gate that’s supposed to hold it,” Matt says. “It’s the same as running diesel fuel; it’s a big waste, and we need to try to stop it or slow it down.” He does this by adding sand or even grass in front of the leaking boards, as sometimes the sand can wash away too quickly.

Once we are flooded, our team needs to constantly monitor the bogs to make sure there are no leaks, that the water level remains steady, and that the stream remains constant. The weather is also a factor: no rain for a long period of time will shrink the reservoirs and wells may need to be started to maintain the water level in the bogs. Matt says, “If it gets cold enough for the water to freeze, I also need to check to see if I have to break any ice to keep the stream flowing, especially on the southeast gates.”

Team communication is crucial to the process, adds Jeremy Fenstermaker, because “an action in one section will have a huge effect somewhere else. It’s important to learn the whole process but it’s even more important to know how it all ties together.”

A Team Thanksgiving

Our annual team thank you post! What are we grateful for this year?

Bryan vonHahmann:

Spending time with family and friends through the holidays, being part of a great team and completing another year, and new challenges that lie ahead.

Louis Cantafio:

In reviewing all of these things that I have been thankful for, I realized that it’s not my individual successes, but rather the successes of our shop team – a group of individuals that is responsible for building, fixing and maintaining over 280 pieces of moving equipment as well as over 100 diesel-powered irrigation pumps. This group of individuals ensures on a daily basis that the rest of our teams have the operational equipment they need for PICC to be one of the largest cranberry producers in the world. Yes, that’s it! – I am most thankful for the opportunity to work with such a talented, motivated and successful team! (and I like that they make me look good!) Thank you!

Matt Giberson:

I’m thankful for a safe harvest and thankful to be a farmer.

Mike Scullion:

I’m thankful for my new puppy, Kali, and my new camper, and I’m looking forward to many camping trips!

Joann Martin:

I am thankful that our softball sister Sammy Thompson came home from a 307 day hospital stay while battling leukemia and will be spending Thanksgiving in her own home with her family. #sammystrong

Jeremy Fenstermaker:

I am thankful that my family at home has grown up around here and understands what it takes to work here. I am grateful for their love and support.

Debra Signorelli:

I’m thankful for so many things. . .my family, friends, and co-workers make this walk a joyous one! I wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving.


Stef Haines

As always, I’m grateful that the team is willing to step up and write the blog this week, as well as their perpetual willingness to let me interrupt their work with cameras and visitors!

Happy Thanksgiving, from all of us to all of you!

Dan is retiring!

Dan Schiffhauer of Ocean Spray is retiring, and the New Jersey cranberry community is certainly going to miss him!

Dan was here as the contact for the growers for Ocean Spray and did whatever was needed to assist us with the crop. When he first came on board he was the point man for getting every Ocean Spray grower to use Integrated Pest Management and helped develop that program for all of us. He was available to deal with any horticultural issue, whether it was fertilizer, disease, insects, water management . . . if it had to do with cranberries, he was there as a consultant. His hard work and dedication made a tremendous difference in how we manage our crops.

Thierry Besançon, Rutgers University:

Dan is the guy here at the station who took a lot of his time to teach me about cranberry, not only the plant, but also the pests, the weeds, and all the complexity of cranberry management. He’s a very enthusiastic pedagogue, a mine of knowledge, and a great supporter of our Weed Science Research program! I’m glad that he’ll still be around because I still have plenty of questions on cranberry for him!

Steve Lee IV, Lee Brothers:

Dan is and will always be part of our family and we are eternally grateful for his tireless efforts in contributing to our success. We are thankful and appreciative of Laura, Sam and Maura for their personal family sacrifices made in support of Dan’s work over 29-plus years.

Peter Oudemans, Rutgers University:

Dan Schiffhauer is one of the most energetically creative people working in cranberries today . . . I can’t believe he thinks it is OK to retire!

Jeremy Fenstermaker, Pine Island Cranberry:

I am glad to have had the opportunity to get to know him professionally and personally. He was always available when needed and spoke from experience when called upon. He always had the growers best interest in mind. Now I hope he enjoys his retirement and shares where he is catching the big fish!

Shawn Cutts, ACGA President:

It is hard to overstate how much we will all miss Dan as he retires. Through his hard work, expertise, and willingness to attack any problem, he has been a tremendous resource in helping us growers to be our best. His friendship has been a blessing to everyone in the NJ cranberry community. We wish him all the best in retirement!

Bill Haines, Pine Island Cranberry:

Dan’s smart, he’s funny, and he always worked hard for the growers. The two biggest compliments I can pay Dan are that he was always there when you needed him, and in his 30-plus years here, he made a difference.

#WinThanksgiving – thanks, Ocean Spray!

This entry was originally posted on November 27, 2013 with the title “Happy Thanksgiving!”

It’s almost inevitable that a cranberry blog would do an entry about Thanksgiving! It’s a holiday which really is a chance for us here at Pine Island to relax and enjoy the fruits of our labor. (Sorry.) Many traditions in the Haines family come from cranberries, both our own and through the Ocean Spray cooperative. And best of all, they’re usually locally sauced! (Really sorry. We’ll stop now.) CEO Bill Haines goes out every year toward the end of harvest and hand scoops several pounds of berries for family use, using a wooden scoop that’s been in the family for generations.

Huge thanks to our friends at Ocean Spray for allowing us to use the following recipes and photographs, as well as posting the information showing us how these recipes are berry good for both you as well as the environment! (We said we were done. We lied. After all, cranberry farming can be a barrel of laughs.)

To start off, of course, you’ll want a cocktail. Vodka and cranberry is a popular combination, but did you know it actually has a name? To make a Cape Codder, you’ll just need the following:

Ingredients:

6 ounces Ocean Spray® Cranberry Juice Cocktail, chilled
1 1/2 ounces vodka
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Directions:

Pour into a tall glass filled with ice. Makes 1 serving.

Of course, you can’t have a turkey without stuffing. Cape Cod Cornbread Stuffing just fits the bill:

Ingredients:

2 cups cornbread stuffing cubes
1/2 pound sausage meat, cooked, drained and crumbled
1 cup Ocean Spray® Fresh or Frozen Cranberries
1/2 cup diced onion
1/3 cup chopped pecans
2 teaspoons thyme
1/2 cup chicken broth

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Combine all ingredients, except chicken broth, in a medium casserole dish. Add chicken broth; mix well. Add more chicken broth for a moister stuffing. Cover and bake for 30 minutes or until heated through. Makes 3 cups.

The following is a classic for a reason; it pairs perfectly with a leftover turkey sandwich! (Or, as some first graders we know have done…mix it with mayo and put it on a hamburger. To each her own.)

Homemade Whole Berry Cranberry Sauce

Ingredients:

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 12-ounce package Ocean Spray® Fresh or Frozen Cranberries, rinsed and drained

Directions:

Combine water and sugar in a medium saucepan. Bring to boil; add cranberries, return to boil. Reduce heat and boil gently for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cover and cool completely at room temperature. Refrigerate until serving time.

Makes 2 1/4 cups.

This side dish doesn’t contain any cranberries, but who’s to say you couldn’t add some Craisins? [Ed. note, 11-15-2019: this recipe has been updated since this post was originally published, and the recipe now contains Craisins! We’re leaving the recipe as-is on our site, but please visit the updated link for this recipe and many more!]

Brussels Sprouts with Toasted Pecans

Ingredients:

1 1/2 pounds fresh brussels sprouts
2 tablespoons butter
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup chopped pecans, toasted
Salt and pepper

Directions:

Trim stems of brussels sprouts; remove any damaged leaves.

Place brussels sprouts in 3-quart saucepan; add water to just cover. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat; simmer until brussels sprouts are tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain; keep warm.

In the meantime, toast pecans. Place nuts in single layer on baking sheet. Bake in 350° oven 3 to 5 minutes or until light golden brown, watching carefully.

Melt butter in same saucepan over medium-high heat. Add garlic; cook and stir 30 seconds. Remove from heat. Stir in brussels sprouts and pecans; toss gently to coat. Season with salt and pepper.

Makes 6 servings.

Last but not least, we have dessert: a longtime family favorite is a cranberry nut pie that Bill’s mother used to make.

SARA’S CRANBERRY NUT PIE

Ingredients:

Filling:
2 cups cranberries
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup sugar

Topping:
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup melted butter
2 eggs
2 teaspoons almond extract

Directions:

Mix the first three ingredients together and spread in the bottom of a greased 10 in pie plate. Mix together the last five ingredients and pour over cranberry mixture. Bake 55-60 minutes in a preheated 325 degree oven. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

No photos of that last one…it usually gets eaten too quickly. Happy Thanksgiving, from all of us to all of you!

Harvest’s end – 2019

Our team picked the final bog for 2019 yesterday, bringing this year’s harvest to a close.

It was a tough season, weather-wise, which meant we had to slow down a lot while waiting for color.

While for the most part, we relied on our bog side cleaners, we did return to the old packing house platform to maximize what fruit we could from the younger beds! We also did some experimenting to improve our equipment: “We experimented with grate spacing on the bog side cleaners to eliminate rot and trash, as well as the brush cleaner at the packing house,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann.

We made some changes to our process as well! “We also took an assembly line approach for gathering; now that we have four cleaners we were able to send a team to get the bog ready to go ahead of time, which made the cleaning go more quickly,” Bryan says. “We were able to cover a lot of acres that way.”

Bryan is already getting ready for 2020 by working on some new training procedures ahead of next year’s harvest. And in the meantime, the rest of our team is getting ready for the next big task: the winter flood!

Picking methods

In the time since we launched this site, 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.

GoPro Gates Harrow from Pine Island Cranberry on Vimeo.

With the majority of our older bogs finished, we’re looking to make a strong finish with the harrows in the next week or so!