Sanding changes

Our first core value at Pine Island Cranberry is “get better”: doing everything we do better every day. Part of that is not doing things the way we’ve always done just because that’s the way we’ve always done them.

Our annual sanding project is moving right along, and while the process remains approximately the same, we’re always adjusting the details with an eye to future production.

“We’re actually continuing the process that we did last year,” says manager Mike Haines. “For the past several years we’d moved from sanding one inch to a half-inch, then went back a couple of years ago to to doing an inch on established beds while continuing to do a half-inch on new beds. It can be kind of hard to tell at the end of the first year if there’s a difference, so we keep an eye on it and see if there are any changes in production as well as how healthy the bogs look, and we experimented with a couple of beds at Centennial again in order to make a comparison.”

There are other factors at play as well, Mike says: “When you make sanding changes you need to make changes elsewhere, too, especially with fertilizer. It’ll be interesting to see how this looks once the new beds get to full production. But in the meantime we’re going to keep making decisions based on results rather than following the rule of thumb just for the sake of it.”

We’ve also made some equipment changes! We have new sanders that are slightly bigger and cover more ground more quickly. When the weather is cooperative, we can run three sanding teams and get a lot done. It might take a couple of years to see results, and the best proof will be in the production!

Bog renovation – winter 2019

While the rest of our team is hard at work on our usual winter tasks such as sanding, our bog renovation team is also keeping busy!

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. 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.

Our current renovation acreage is each at a different stage. “At Stump, we’re moving the canal over and rebuilding it,” says manager Steve Manning. “We’re rebuilding the dams, though it’s taking a little while; it’s been too wet to be doing too much grading.”

“At Bull Coo, we’ll be putting sand in this week and putting the gates in, too,” Steve says. “We need to redirect some of the ramps and the dams, as well.”

The weather’s been a bit of challenge at times. “Everything being frozen can be bad; when the ground’s tight it works to our advantage when putting sand in and for hauling but digging is hard,” Steve says. “When it’s cold and windy nobody wants to be outside! Monday was brutal; Tuesday felt like spring in comparison. But it’s getting cold again, they say, so hopefully we can take advantage while the ground’s frozen and get our trucks out again.”

ACGA Winter Meeting 2019

This week the American Cranberry Growers Association once again held its annual winter meeting. The ACGA winter meeting is always a good opportunity for growers to listen to research findings from experiments during the previous growing season and the researchers’ recommendations for the 2019 growing season. In addition, it’s a great chance for the local cranberry community to catch up to each other after the busy harvest season.

Pine Island sent a big crew this year, and they all came away pleased with the experience. CEO Bill Haines thought this year was particularly good, and as always, enjoyed the the chance to sit down and chat with fellow growers at lunch. ““You can get as much from just having a conversation over lunch as you can from the presentation,” he says.

The rest of the team were equally glad they attended. “It was good to know about some regulatory changes that are coming up,” says Justin Ross. “Knowing what will and won’t be available now will help us plan things better for later.”

“I thought Thierry’s research with the effectiveness of of some treatments on red root was interesting,” says Matt Giberson. “I think more testing should be done on the timing of the application that would be most effective, though. Very interested to know more about how we can kill that swan loving devil weed.” One other side note he thought was interesting: how some treatments seem to greatly reduce yield when applied early in berry development. “From talking to Peter, it seems that it causes phytotoxicity to the flower making it less likely to produce fruit, hence the cause of pin fruit development.”

Newer team member Mike Scullion says, “I enjoyed learning about the management of red root in our bogs as that is an ongoing issue we are dealing with on our farm. My favorite part of the meeting, as always, is learning about the new varieties Nick Vorsa is working on. They are getting closer and closer to producing a strain of cranberry that not only has a higher resistance to fruit rot, but still has a higher yield.”

“I found Nakorn’s presentation really interesting,” says Mike Haines. “We know that we don’t want blunt-nosed leafhopper in the bogs, as they spread false blossom disease, but it was interesting to hear his hypotheses and thoughts on why this interaction occurs, like how the leafhoppers that feed on diseased plants end up being larger adults, and that nutrient levels are actually higher in infected plants.”

All in all, it was another productive day for our Pine Island team as well another excellent program put together by Dr. Cesar Rodriguez-Saona. Thank you, Cesar!

Sanding 2019

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.

Sand-Pit-004

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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While rain has been an issue, on the dry days the weather’s been highly cooperative! Milder weather helps the entire process run much more smoothly; wet sand can freeze and cause mechanical issues even after being screened. “We couldn’t ask for a better day than this,” says Matt Giberson.

Rain, rain, go away

The week between Christmas and the new year are frequently very quiet at many businesses. Pine Island is no exception, though in this case it’s due once again to heavy rains in the area.

Regular readers, of course, know that the number one question to ask when growing cranberries is “where is the water coming from, and where do you want it to go?” Right now, the answer is “Everywhere, and somewhere else!”

Bog flooded for winter

The winter flood is complete, so right now it’s just a question of keeping water at the right level in each bed. That can be tough when you don’t know how much rain you’re going to get on any given day, so our team is frequently pulling and replacing boards in order to keep the water at the optimum level.

It’s also holding up this year’s sanding project; while rain doesn’t delay the process the way cold weather does, it’s hard on the dams when we’re running heavy equipment in heavy rain. This also causes delays on our current bog renovation. The good news: with this much water, we save on fuel costs, since we don’t need to run the pumps.

In the meantime, our team is doing as much indoor work and maintenance as possible! It’s all about flexibility.

Merry Christmas!

Bryan vonHahmann:

I would like Santa to give everybody in the world a cranberry product for Christmas. (We will help Santa source the supply). . .

Louis Cantafio:

Really, I have everything else, so . . .

Louis adds:

I cannot tell if Santa is very late from last year or early for this year, but I see that Vanessa’s Hydrema has received a Christmas upgrade. I think we would all be remiss if you did not get a picture this morning of Vanessa sporting a beautiful set of bright pink wheels on her Hydrema!

Debra Signorelli:

My wish is for everyone to get to where they’re going safely and enjoy what this special day really means. Merry Christmas!

Carlos Baez:

I want a $100 Visa gift card.

CoCo Mercado wants a completed truck.

Ernie Waszkiewicz wants peace and harmony (and bright white shop uniforms).

Larry Wedemeyer wants happiness.

Matt Giberson:

Dear Santa: Please make the rain stop.

Joann Martin:

I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and I would still love it if Santa brought a puppy.

Steve Manning wants a healthy, happy family and a good dinner!

Stef Haines wants the Phillies to sign Harper and Machado, since this already happened:

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from all of us here at Pine Island Cranberry!

Ocean Spray Regional Meeting

This week, Ocean Spray held one of their regular regional meetings at the Philip E. Marucci Center for Blueberry and Cranberry Research to provide a business and cooperative update for New Jersey grower-owners. Not everyone manages to get to every Annual Growers Meeting, so it was a great chance to hear from CEO Bobby Chacko as well as several senior executives about where Ocean Spray is, where we’re going, and how we’re getting there!

Pine Island CEO and member of the Ocean Spray Board of Directors Bill Haines opened the meeting by introducing the management team. “Two things you can count on from this management team: one, they’re working hard, and two, they’ll tell us the truth,” he said.

Bobby said, upon his selection, “Ocean Spray’s story is close to nine decades old, but we are just getting started,” and everyone’s presentations this week are in line with that vision. We heard from Board Chairman Peter Dhillon, Bobby, and new senior executives Joseph Vanderstelt (SVP, Chief Financial Officer), Brian Schiegg (SVP, Chief Commercial Officer), and Jamie Head (Chief Information Officer), as well as board advisor Marla Gottschalk. Each speaker gave us a little bit of their background and what strengths they bring to Ocean Spray as an organization as well as their vision for the coop’s future. They touched upon supply, marketing, and the importance of emphasizing that the company is grower-owned, and spent a great deal of time answering questions both respectfully and openly.

“I thought it was great,” says grower Steve Sooy. “The more they’re here to talk with us, the better off they are and the better off we are. I appreciate straight talk, no sugarcoating, and they gave us that.”

“Honesty,” Steve says. “You can’t ask for better than that.”

Winter flood 2018

The winter flood has begun!

As we said last week in our post about dormancy:

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 not 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. “Things are a little different this year,” says Matt Giberson. “We have so much water from all the rain that we haven’t needed to starting the wells. Which means we can be a little more at ease about things because we’re not worried about supply.”

water moving to the next bog

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. “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.”

This year, new team member Mike Scullion is learning how the winter flood works! “It’s going really great,” he says. “I’ve been learning a lot from everyone, especially Gerardo, Stiles, Matt, and Jeremy. I’m learning the topography of the whole farm, how to run water in different directions . . .it’s all really interesting and I’ve been enjoying it. One of my favorite things I’ve done here so far.” The entire process is complicated with a lot to learn, but, he says, “I’m starting to grasp things now. You always have to keep track of where the water is coming from, how much of it there is, and where you need to send it. But even the hard stuff is great; putting on my waders to get into a bog, breaking through the ice, I love it.”

Going to sleep

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:

Per the UMass Cranberry Station:

The signal to enter dormancy is most likely a combination of low temperatures and short days.

The dormant state lasts until the plant has been exposed to sufficient ‘chilling hours’ — hours of temperatures between 32ºF and 45ºF to complete the dormant cycle. In common with other perennial fruit crops, the cranberry plants must accumulate a critical number of chilling units in order to break dormancy in the spring and initiate flowering for the new season.

While we are waiting for the plants to complete this process so that we can begin the annual winter flood, our team is continuing to work on cleaning out interior ditches (better for drainage) and pest management (putting up swan string).

And, of course, we continue to work with our most important resource: our water supply.

Happy Thanksgiving!

It’s that time of year again! This week, the hardest-working team in the business tells you what they’re thankful for.

Vanessa is thankful for a successful harvest and that all of our equipment has run so well!

Ben is thankful to have a job at Pine Island.

Eduardo is thankful for the opportunity to return again to Pine Island.

Saul is thankful for being able to work here and for all of the great teamwork at Pine Island.

Sergio is thankful for the opportunity to work at Pine Island.

Popito is thankful for being able to work here and being able to work with such a great team during harvest. Additionally, he is thankful to be the leader of the blue team!

Matt Stiles is thankful for his family and the opportunity to work at Pine Island with an excellent group of people!

Debra, as with every Thanksgiving, is thankful for her faith and her family . . .even more so this year.

Bryan is grateful that another year of challenges is in the review mirror and is looking forward to a new set of challenges. He is especially looking forward to spending some down time over the holidays with family.

Joann is thankful this holiday season for family, friends, and everyone’s health.

Wilfredo is thankful for his health, the health of his family, and for what he has in life.

CoCo is thankful for all the good people around.

Carlos is thankful for everything!

Ernie is thanful for his friends and family.

Larry is also thankful for his friends and family.

Louis, not usually a man of such few words, says simply that he is just thankful.

Jeremy is a bit more voluble than Louis, and says: “I am grateful to be surrounded by family and friends who make each day better than the last. I am also glad to live and work on such a serene and beautiful property. I try to stop for a few moments each day and appreciate the beauty of nature around me. This is such a unique and interesting area, and I am thankful that I am able to experience the allure of the pines each and every day!”

Mike Scullion is thankful for his new job here, his wife who he married in October, and his new home here in the heart of the Pine Barrens.

Mike Vitale is thankful for all that he has in his life.

Mike Haines (our second newlywed Mike!) says he has a lot to be thankful for this year: “Daina and I getting married and getting to celebrate with all our family and friends. Completing another growing season and harvest. And getting Ozzy!”

Steve is thankful for his family, his friends, and the life they all live.

Stef is, as always, grateful that the team is willing to step up and write the blog this week, in addition to the myriad of other tasks they do to make this place nothing but the best!