Cranberry season!

Pine Island Cranberry is about a week in to the harvest and our team is once again doing whatever it takes to get the crop safely in! We’re not quite running at full capacity every day yet, as it’s so early in the season, but all three teams have put in some work already.

“One of the first things we did this year was get the Crimson Queens off first,” says operations manager Matt Giberson. “There were some rot numbers last year that had us concerned with getting those off faster than we did last year, so we started with with all three crews. We also wanted to get the young stuff done because this early on, the canopy structure just isn’t there, so we wanted to keep our rot numbers as low as possible.” This mean that’s we’re also being a bit more lenient on color this year. “If we wait too long to increase TAcy [an acronym for “total anthocyanin concentration” and is a unit of color measurement used in a cranberry], rot will increase too much.” COO Bryan vonHahmann created a chart to put it in better perspective: 2% rot and 20 TAcy v. 5% rot and 35 TAcy, as a comparison. “The latter means that rot percentage outweighs color, so it’s better to get color off at 20 instead of waiting for it to max out,” Matt says.

Now that the young beds are done, our harvest crews are slowing down, as we’re not finding color where we need it be. However, this weekend is supposed to be cooler, which is what we’ve been waiting for; cranberries don’t begin to attain their full color until nights become cool. “It’s still not going to be as cold as we’d like it to be,” says Matt, “but hopefully we get good color this weekend. We’ll start up all three crews again and just go for it.”

The amount of rain this year has also made a difference. The farm has received around ten inches of rain just this month alone, which is good in some ways, but also causes some difficulty. “It’s been a weird year,” Matt says. “Plenty of water for harvesting, though! Usually we have to be cautious but this year it’s much easier.” It also makes things more challenging for the equipment; we’ve finished the dam-widening project just prior to harvest, but the turnarounds for the tractor trailers still haven’t settled completely. “But now everything is tractor trailer accessible,” Matt says.


In addition to the easier accessibility, there’s good news for the fruit as well. “The Haines bed shows a lot of promise. Firmness in high 600s to 700s. There was some rot because of the canopy structure, but that’s going to happen in a young bed that’s not at full production yet, and the good fruit got good color and roundness. Beautiful fruit and hard as a rock,” Matt says. We’re hoping for great things from the Haines bed next year, and in the meantime, our crews will keep working to make this year another productive harvest!

Harvest begins! – 2018

The 2018 harvest is officially underway at Pine Island Cranberry!

We’re currently running three teams, two with the Gates Harrow and one with the traditional water reels, as there are still older beds in the center of the farm that are easier to pick using this method.

Our gathering team is working with newly updated equipment that should increase efficiency and reduce wear and tear on the dams, and the dam widening project is now complete.

Overall, our team is doing what they do best: getting the harvest in safely, and doing everything they do better every day!

Pine Island History: The Birches

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 this week took a tour with botanist and historian Ted Gordon to chat about the farm’s history.

According to Ted:

. . . the first cranberry bogs were set out in wilderness about five miles southeast of the Burlington County village of Tabernacle by Pemberton’s legendary pioneer grower Theodore Budd just prior to 1859. Around 1880, Budd sold these bogs and the nearby Goose Pond to Martin L. Haines of Vincentown, who set out additional bogs. . . On the sudden death of Martin in 1905, management of the Birches and its satellite holdings passed to sons Ernest M. and Ethelbert Haines. In 1920, Ernest became the sole owner and manager, while Ethelbert (Bert) presided over the company’s holdings at Hog Wallow.

“Ernest was a very good carpenter,” Ted says. “He built the house that’s still standing here as a foreman’s house originally.” There are also several buildings still in existence that were moved from other cranberry farms at Burrs Mill and Johnson Place. Ernest died in 1935 and ownership of the Birches passed to his sister, whose children and grandchildren continued to manage the farm until the death of Mary Ann Thompson in 2015.

The Birches’ centerpiece is a 120′ by 40′ cranberry sorting barn, the construction of which began more than a century ago. It is one of only three such buildings in continuous operation in the Burlington County cranberry district.

The Haines family is very pleased to return to the land that gave us our start; it’s wonderful to be able to come full circle. We have a lot of ideas for the Birches, and plan to hold steadfast to our core values while also doing its history justice. In this effort, we have a tremendous advantage: Ted Gordon’s knowledge of local history is exceeded only by his enthusiasm for it, and we are truly grateful for his willingness to share it with us!

Cleaning line!

This entry was originally posted on September 8, 2017, with a follow-up on October 6, 2017.

Last week we talked about how our team was prepping for harvest, including some equipment modifications. This week, we take a look at the changes to our cleaning facility! Up until now, our cleaning line at the packing house removes trash, debris, leaves, and so forth; however, it does not remove rotten fruit. But our Facilities team is hard at work on upgrades.

“With the standards changing in fruit quality, Ocean Spray is starting to dock growers for any rot amount greater than 20%, and we get charged the cleaning fee,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann. “If the rot percentage goes over 40%, they won’t even take it. We already know that that in the early years in our young beds, it’s easy to get a lot of rot because the canopy isn’t well developed. But we still get some good fruit from them. So what we decided to do was get an analysis on the good fruit from those young beds and see what they were worth. Once we did the math, we found it was a relatively short payback for us to put in brush washers to push the rotten fruit out. The blowers on the line take the leaves off and dry the fruit some, but rot still goes into the trailer. Our bog side cleaners are a definite improvement on that but even those can’t handle the high rot beds. So we modified our current facility to put in a four-roller brush system in.”

“Our goal is to keep the rot percentage as low as possible,” Bryan says. “In a bed with 25% rot, for example, we’d hope to remove 10%. If we have a bed that’s at 45, we can knock 20% out; we’d need to pay the fee but still send out the good crop. Now that we’re renovating so heavily it’s worth the investment.”

“We’re working hard to have it ready,” says manager Louis Cantafio. “The equipment arrived the second week of August, but we tried to get all the prep work done ahead of that. It’s all the same stuff they’re running up at the receiving station; so we didn’t really need to build anything new. Bryan did the research and ordered the equipment; my team found some equipment we could purchase used and save some money on the project. We started ordering materials so we could be ready to go when the equipment arrived, and we’ve been going gangbusters ever since!”

“The fruit goes through the line as usual, but then it goes into the table so that it can be spread into one layer and move through the cleaner,” explains Facilities supervisor Mike Guest. “If the berries are packed too close together it won’t work. All the rest of the work on the line are just to accommodate these additions.”

The new line will be done in plenty of time for the harvest, and we’re all looking forward to the results!

Ocean Spray Receiving Station – Chatsworth’s 30th Anniversary

This year, the Ocean Spray receiving station in Chatsworth celebrates its 30th anniversary, and several growers were on hand to celebrate with the hardworking station crew.

“We wanted to have a celebration of our 30th anniversary just before we start harvest number 31,” says manager Bob Garatino. Bob and his crew work all year to make sure that the approximately 49 days of cranberry harvest run as smoothly as possible, from start to finish, and they’ve been making a lot of improvements in the “off” season. “Two months out of the year, our goal is cleaning and sizing cranberries. The rest of the year, we make sure our bins are cleaned and prepared for the next season. And we also take a few actions. As you enter the property and look around, there’s a lot of new signage related to safety. Safety is paramount; nothing we do is so important and no service we provide is so urgent that we cannot perform our job safely. Quality is king; we do our best to judge fruit fairly and consistently, because we know that’s our job. We’re committed to keeping costs as low as we can; where we can do it ourselves we will. We also look started asking ourselves “what if”: if something comes up, how will we handle it?”

Bob also took the opportunity to thank the growers for their support. “[The growers] have been here to plow out three feet of snow, to give us valuable feedback and advice, sending us blueberries, educating us on the latest research, bringing us holiday cookies, or just working with us to work out bumps and bruises of the annual harvest.” He is also very proud of his Chatsworth team. “They take pride in their work every day.”

Communication with the growers and timing delivery truly is the key, says supervisor Alonza Williams. “Production varies; if everyone gathers at the same time it’s going to crank things up, but if one grower is harvesting a lower yield variety than what another grower might be doing it balances out.” The receiving station has 12 people on staff during the slower months, but by the time they’re in full swing that number grows to 29, and that’s when communication truly becomes essential: “We’ll stay in touch with growers for their start and end times and even Sundays, by request.” In addition to prepping the bins, Alonza’s getting the lab ready so growers can ring samples in to test for TAcy and firmness.

“The Chatsworth receiving station has always been a big benefit to the growers in New Jersey,” says Pine Island CEO Bill Haines. “It’s always been a pleasure to work with the crew there. Bob, Alonza, Mike, and the rest of the team have always been more than helpful, and we’re glad they’re part of the Ocean Spray team.”

Ted Gordon – summer 2018

This week we had the opportunity to take another ride around the property with Ted Gordon, a research specialist with more than 35 years experience in botanical studies, including contributions to major plant studies of endangered species in the Pinelands. A former Pinelands Commissioner, Ted primarily conducts rare species surveys and research, monitors habitats, and designs management plans for the conservation and enhancement of rare plants, and we are very fortunate to have access to his knowledge and experience.

Ted comes out to visit the Sim Place property every year to give suggestions on how to manage areas with certain floral species, such as when it might be time to mow or if a recent prescribed burn has had any effect. “There is a significant patch that has been visited by botanists from all over the world for nearly a century,” he says. “I’ve seen hundreds of species in there. Letting it go probably helped for a bit, but not doing anything at all encourages grasses to overwhelm flowering plants. Many rare species are still here. It’s definitely worth the effort to try and bring them back.”

This year, though, was a little different: some New Jersey Audubon staffers came along for the ride. “I was doing a presentation on the quail project and met Ted,” says John Parke, NJA Stewardship Project Director. “Good stewardship practices work for species recovery for wildlife as well as plant life, so it was great to make that connection with someone who understands the native plants. It was a good mesh; this project isn’t just about the quail, it’s about how good management practices affect and impact other species as well. Ted wanted to come out to see the project and managed to time it with his annual visit to see how the native plant life is doing. The Pinelands are unique, and this is an opportunity for us to see how we can all work together.”

John took Ted and the staff out to watch Phil Coppola and Mike Adams do some telemetry and to look at the nesting areas, while Ted pointed out various plant species along the way. Ted was highly pleased to see some quail as well as how some of the plant species are doing, pointing out the high count on some rare summer species as well as the one getting ready for their autumn debut! “I find all kinds of plants growing near cultivated beds, more so than anywhere else,” he says. “Cranberry properties have the most diversity thanks to common forestry practices.”

ACGA Summer Field Day 2018

This week several Pine Island Cranberry team members attended the annual American Cranberry Growers Association (ACGA) summer field day at the Rutgers extension center. While several topics are similar to those discussed at the winter meeting, the field day is a chance to go out and explore the researchers’ valuable work first hand!

Though Dr. Cesar Rodriguez-Saona was sadly absent due to a conflicting academic commitment, he once again put together an excellent and informative program, and Dr. Nick Vorsa stepped in to make sure everything ran smoothly.

Justin Ross:

“I liked seeing everyone all together. Nick and Jennifer’s calcium study was interesting; that’s something to keep in mind if we were to try liquid fertilizer.”

Mike Scullion:

“My favorite parts of today’s meeting was Nick’s talk on the health benefits of cranberries and how they’re a rich source of phenolic compounds, especially the flavonoids. Also, he mentioned that they are working on a new variety of cranberry that has reduced acid levels. This will be great because you won’t need as much added sugar to make them more palatable. Exciting stuff!”

Matt Stiles:

“I thought Thierry’s talk was really interesting; he’s doing a lot of work. It’s great to have that research, especially for the young bogs, where you have to control weeds early on in order to keep them out of there. So it’s interesting to see what he’s working on and where he thinks it’s going to go. I also always like hearing the latest updates on new varieties, especially the work on fruit rot resistance.”

Jeremy Fenstermaker:

It’s always nice to see all the other growers; being able to catch up with them and see if they’re seeing the same effects of the weather, how they’re handling things, get some ideas. I also liked Peter’s update; I like the direction he’s going with regard to fruit quality, seeing what hasn’t worked, taking it a step farther. if you find a way to keep scald from happening, then you take the chance, and it’s exciting to see that work being done. It was also neat to have the the drone to see how we could do it on a larger scale. It’s good that the meeting coincided with the marketing committee, too; we were all able to chat with people from different growing areas.”

Mike Haines:

“It’s cool seeing the progress on everyone’s experiments. One of my favorite talks is always hearing Nick and Jennifer talk about fruit rot resistance breeding, and getting to actually go into into the research bed and see all the trials where they’re mixing resistant low-yield varieties with Crimson Queen to see if they can get a good producer. Hand in hand with that, Jim Polashock’s talk about genomics was interesting; it’s not something I’m overly familiar with, but the way he presented I was able to follow and understand.

Altogether, another successful field day! Thank you to the entire staff at the Marucci Center for all of your hard work in putting it together.

Joan Davenport – Summer 2018

Our team just finished another productive follow-up visit with soil scientist Dr. Joan Davenport! Joan comes to see us in the spring during the bloom period and again in the height of summer to discuss fertilizer needs for bud set. Joan looks at hook, the length and color of the new upright growth, and the amount and color of old leaves, including looking for leaves from two growing seasons ago.

Additional plant nutrition is necessary because while cranberries have adapted (and thrive) in their native sandy soil, nutrients are taken from the bog through the harvest of fruit. The three main elements usually added for nutrition are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. This time of year we look for recommendations for bud set fertilizer as we have to make sure the plants have enough to maintain the fruit as it finishes sizing up before harvest, but also that the plants set buds for next year’s crop. With a perennial crop, we’re always thinking about this year and the next; all the years are related.

“At this point in the growing season, we are evaluating the plants to complete the grown season and support next year’s crop,” Joan says. “To do this, I look at the crop load, the presence and quantity of buds, the length and color of the new upright growth, and the color of last growing season’s leaves. This season’s new leaves should be green and the old (last year’s) leaves just starting to turn pale. Larger crop loads indicate higher nitrogen demand. There should be visible buds and few to no uprights actively growing, plus few to no runners present.”

“Joan’s recommendations this time are pretty consistent,” says Mike Haines. “That feels really good, because I think it means we did a good job keeping everything consistent and giving the beds what they needed through the season so that we just need to put the finishing touches on. I’m happy about that; it had looked good, so it’s good to get the confirmation from Joan.”

Community service

Last week during the annual Pine Barrens Festival in Tabernacle, one of Pine Island’s team members received a special award from his home community. Per the Pine Barrens Tribune:

During each night of the festival, a different town from the Burlington County communities of the Pine Barrens is spotlighted as part of a “Focus On Our Town” event. . .

“We firmly believe that the quality of life in each town is highlighted by the quality and quantity of volunteer service that is gifted to the town by its people,” [Holy Eucharist spokesperson Mary] Fischl said. “We wish to show our appreciation and congratulate these folks.”

This year, the recipient for Woodland Township’s annual award was our very own Facilities/Equipment manager Louis Cantafio!

Louis has been a hard-working team member since he started here six years ago, always willing to do whatever it takes and work as many hours as he needs to to make sure everything is done, especially in an emergency.

“Louis is just a really good guy,” says Woodland Township mayor Bill DeGroff. “He volunteers a lot of his free time and expertise for zero compensation. The minute he hears someone needs something, his first response is usually ‘What can I do to help?’ He’s on the land use board, he volunteers with the forest fire service, and he’s been spending a lot of time pitching in with the fire house remodel, even though he’s not a company member. It was a pretty easy decision to offer his name for the award.”

“We’re really impressed with the work that Louis does in the community,” says Pine Island CEO Bill Haines. “It’s obvious that he brings the same kind of dedication and energy to his community that he brings to his work at Pine Island, and we’re really proud of him.”

Dam widening project

This year, one of our long-term ongoing projects is at last near completion: widening our dams and building turnarounds for easier travel during harvest. On a cranberry farm, dams serve two purposes: to detain the water used for irrigation and water management, and for vehicle use. Dam maintenance is highly important for both safety and equipment. Widening dams makes hauling easier, especially since some parts of the operation are quite a distance from our cleaning platform.

Now, instead of several trucks carrying two boxes, we can use a tractor trailer that carries nine and won’t need to use as many trucks. It will be more efficient for both the gathering team and the packing house platform, as well as freeing up team members to be elsewhere if we need them. We’ve planned it out so there’s a route where they can gather the bogs off one dam in order to widen as few turns as possible. It also makes room for new equipment like our bog side cleaners and our Gates Harrow harvesters.

“We’re very close to being done,” says bog renovations manager Steve Manning. “Mostly the gates are all done and we’re just moving dirt for now. It’s a lot easier when we’re doing an active reno because we’re already doing so much redesigning, but we’re trying to get a little ahead of that for future renovations by moving pump houses and shifting some other things around so we don’t have to do it later.” The most difficult part is working with the irrigation, especially in the summertime when heat can be an issue, but this week the weather worked in our favor. “You wouldn’t think this wet weather would help, but we got a lot done.”

“We have Sim Place, the lake, and the west side of 563 all done,” says operations manager Matt Giberson. “Now we’re working the middle, which has the most acreage, and is also the most complicated because of all the old bogs and their various shapes.” Back when the farm was founded, the bogs were dug by hand, so many of the older parts of the farm were designed by necessity to work around the topography. “We drove around a lot to look at everything and think about it for a while,” Matt says. “We’ve been working on this final stage over the last year, and should be done by harvest. We’ve tried to time it with the rain so we don’t have to worry about a heat run or irrigation run during gate installation. And we’ve been thinking ahead to when we renovate in 10 or 15 years down the road. We may end up adding some turnaround spots as we go, since during harvest we ideally want to be able to work from any corner we can. But as of right now, we’re looking to be ready by this year’s harvest.”