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.”

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.

Equipment: New sander

Sanding, our biggest winter project, continues this week, but we’ve made some changes since the last batch of ice started melting!

We are currently running two sanding teams, and one of them has begun using the new, larger sander, designed to increase our speed and efficiency! We’ve redesigned our sanding plan a couple of times over the years, as we’re always looking at what are the best practices for the crop, and this new machine will help us reach our targets.

“We started thinking about this a couple of years ago when we wanted to increase our sanding practices and cover about a quarter of the farm every year,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann. “The wintertime can be tough, not knowing what Mother Nature’s going to do to us. So shortening the time to sand while increasing number of acres was a challenge! Our initial thought was to increase the size of the equipment by fifty percent, taking it from 10 feet to 15 feet, but we were leery of the amount of water that would displace and how much we’d be able to flood the bogs, not to mention the mechanical problems it poses. We settled on going twenty percent bigger; it’s patterned after our existing sanders, but 12 feet wide with a bigger hopper. It’s already a huge improvement; with the old sanders, the excavator could fill them in three swings with two buckets of sand and a partial third. This new one takes three good-size bucket loads, and since that’s still only three swings on the excavator, it takes roughly the same amount of time to load but it’s covering 20% more ground. This gives us a 10% net increase in coverage, with our goal being putting another one in operation before we start sanding next year and get a full 20% increase.”

The team is still thinking of ways to increase speed and efficiency, however. 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’ve also purchased a used side-discharge manure spreader to fill in the gaps,” Bryan says. “We’ve retrofitted it to slow it down, then did a fair amount of experimenting and finally came up with something that seems to be working. What we do is we drive it down the dam and it throws sand out the side, roughly 15 to 20 feet. We’ve only just started using it, and the wind affects it quite a bit; it needs a calm day with no ice on the beds.”

While the machine was not running much this week, thanks to the weather, operator Wilfredo Pagan has been very pleased and is very excited about the increased speed and coverage area. And if the weather cooperates, we’re hoping to get some video so you can see it in action!

Sanding young beds

Our team got a bit of an early start this year and began our annual sanding process on Monday.

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 runners leads to new root development 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.

Currently the only beds being sanded are the two-year young beds. “For the young beds you put sand on top of the runners, in order to promote new root growth and get new uprights to come up,” explains ICM manager Mike Haines. “It’s just a part of maintaining a healthy bed. And it helps establish young beds and produce more quickly.” On new beds we use twice the amount of fertilizer we put on a producing bed for those first two years. “There’s been a lot of vegetative growth, which is what we want, so now we’re looking for healthy upright growth.”

The team made a couple of minor schedule adjustments based on growth. “We planted Centennial in July 2016, so it’s more like eighteen months instead of two years,” Mike says. “Those have grown so well that they’re pretty close to two-year beds, so we decided to go ahead. Everything else we planted there in August and September didn’t grow as quickly, so we let it be.” He and his team have also made a couple of experimental changes this year: “We’ve been doing a half-inch of sand on two-year beds, but we’re doing a good amount of acreage with an inch this year. We switched to a full inch on the established beds farmwide over the past few cycles and have liked the results. The new beds at Black Rock just grew like crazy, so we thought that could work. The rest of them we weren’t so sure, so we’re experimenting at Warehouse #2 and #3 as well as at Centennial #1 with an inch and doing the rest of the young acreage with the half-inch. That’s a good amount of acreage to compare for next year and see what we like better.”

Mike also plans to speak with Dr. Nick Vorsa at Rutgers about the best way to get new hybrids to establish and produce. And once these two year beds have been sanded, they will move to the usual four-year rotation we use for the established beds!

Pest prevention

Cranberry growers have all kinds of pests to deal with, and 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 solution to keep them away from the crop. 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.

Last year, we added a new method: 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 team is again trying both methods! “Albert [Torres] has been going out and measuring the distances and putting stakes in ahead of the team,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann. “He’ll get the bogs staked out ahead of time, which makes it easier for when the rest of the crew comes. The crew has also streamlined their process over the years and have gotten much quicker; they’re doing a good job. We’re trying the laser treatment again this year as well. It’s going to be installed in the middle of farm, and we’re going to heavily monitor it. Our expectations are that it will keep that middle section ‘clean’, so we’re not trying string there at all.” He notes, however, that the team did find some beds with new swan damage during the growing season, and will be installing string in those locations. “What we really need to do is fix the root cause, which is red root,” he says. “But now we have Thierry [Besançon, the weed science specialist at the Rutgers extension] working on that. He’s been out here this year as we’ve been harvesting, trying to capture seedlings as they float from bog to bog, as well as experimenting with treatment applications and timing. Hopefully in next couple of years we can really start to attack it.”

Fertilizer application – spring 2017

Fertilizer applications have begun; it’s officially the growing season! The amount of fertilizer we apply to each bed is determined by variety, soil conditions, and past practices, requiring constant evaluation of current conditions, history, and trends. Nutritional needs are also different for young vines as opposed to established plantings.

Additional 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. “We’re at the roughneck stage right now for almost everything, and that means a lot of top growth as well as root growth, which in turn means the extra nutrition is necessary,” says manager Mike Haines. The three main elements usually added for nutrition are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, and the team based their decisions on tissue samples, and last year’s yield. According to cranberries.org: “Cranberry plant demand for nitrogen is highest during three stages of the lifecycle critical to cranberry development–early growth, fruit set and bud set. Early growth is when the plant grows vegetatively through vining and root growth and produces a flush of new leaves. Fruit set is when the flower becomes pollinated and fruit begin to form. Soon after fruit set comes bud set when nitrogen is needed for both fruit development and production of the next year’s flower bud.”

In addition to aerial methods (as always, expertly done by Downstown Aero Crop Service) our team has also tried “fertigation”: a uniform application via irrigation system.

However, our team has decided to discontinue the practice for now. “We first tried it two years ago and ramped it up last year,” Mike says. “But with our current irrigation layout, it’s just not a fit at this point.” Instead, we’ll also make our usual applications via the new buggy method introduced last year!

Our team was really pleased with the results last year. We looked at the ones our neighbors were all using, which all have hopper spreaders, and decided we wanted something even more precise. So we added an air system with individual nozzles, and made improvements over the winter based on last year’s performance as well as modifying it for liquid application as well as dry.

Our team is also making sure the conditions are optimal: “We’re going to irrigate tonight, because it’s been so hot and dry,” Mike says. “We want to get that water into the soil so the plants can access those nutrients.”

Current growth stages

Things have been a little quiet around Pine Island Cranberry this week, but as CEO Bill Haines says, “That’s the way we like it!”

The last of the water comes off today right on schedule, which means the sprinkler installation will also be done. We’ve also had very little frost so far, which is good, but: “It hasn’t been really warm or sunny either,” Bill says. “Mike [Haines] and his team are out scouting and we’ll start the roughneck fertilizer once the buds break, but nothing’s broken yet.”

“Vanessa, Jeremy, and I have just been walking a lot of the established bogs,” Mike Haines says. “There’s not much to see right now; in most of the beds the buds are just swelling a little bit. There hasn’t been too much growth since the water’s only come off recently.” The Boricua system has the plants that are farthest along: “It’s probably partly the variety–those beds are planted with Crimson Queen and they tend to go a little earlier–and partly that it was the first system where we took the water off.”

The weather has also been cooperative. “It hasn’t rained in a while and that’s okay; we’ve got plenty of water,” Bill says. “We’ve had very little frost so far, which is good. Once the beds start to grow, frost will get more intense, but so far it‘s been a good spring.”

Elsewhere things are also moving along. It’s not time yet for fertilizer, and the shop team is busy making adjustments to the buggy for use in liquid nutrition application. The team is also finding that sanding went well! Sometimes after the water comes off, we discover the sand’s too heavy in some areas, and team members have to use a rake to pull the vines through. But there’s very little of that this year. “It’s opened up the canopy a little, so we’re glad,” Bill says.

In the meantime, the team will continue to scout for growth and wait for the weather to warm up!

Spring Targets – 2017

The weather today is perfect for a blog update on our targets for this spring!

. . . Well, it’s giving us something to look forward to, anyway. Our team is currently finishing up their winter tasks and preparing for the growing season, and so far, things are going well.

“We’ve already taken the water off the beds that are in either their first or second growing season,” says CEO Bill Haines. “We’ve also made good progress this winter on renovation thanks to mild weather, and are hoping to be ahead of schedule so we can begin work on the new renovation project. Sanding is on track; we’ll finish within a week, then start taking water off the established beds as well as start getting irrigation set up and removing swan strings. We’re going to continue to get the dams ready for use of the semis.”

As always, fruit rot is an ongoing concern. “Mike and his team are thinking hard and talking with the scientists at Rutgers and Ocean Spray to see what we can do to better control rot,” Bill says. “We’ve had increased rot for past couple years while standards from the market are higher and higher, so that’s important for us to work on. We’re also looking into improving our equipment; we want to prevent rot altogether, but with either additional equipment or improved equipment we can also try removing rot before delivering to Ocean Spray.” And, of course, our renovation program is expected to assist with this. “We have an entirely new system that we upgraded last year; we’re trying a different layout as well as different sprinkler heads to see if we can improve coverage. We’re also going to work on modifying one of our buggies as a prototype for doing ground coverage as part of rot control.”

“Mainly I’ve been doing a lot of prepwork,” says ICM manager Mike Haines. “Once it gets busier I’d rather not make decisions on the fly; it’s much to have stuff planned out beforehand. So I’ve been spending time with Peter [Oudemans], Dan [Schiffhauer] and Cesar [Rodriguez-Saona] as well as emailing with Joan [Davenport]. We’re mainly thinking about early season applications and putting micronutrients on, specifically copper and zinc. We’re also planning our roughneck fertilizer, which is our first application after micronutrients, basing our decisions on tissue samples, and last year’s yield. For example, everything that got sanded won’t get nitrogen; that sand layer of sand helps decomposition, which in turn increases nitrogen. One interesting thing, looking at tissue samples at Sim Place: the nitrogen levels are higher there, so we’re not making any applications during the roughneck stage. What’s neat about is that we know that the soil is different than at the home farm–it’s much sandier at the home farm–but it’s pretty cool to see that actually reflected in the numbers.”

He’s also working a plan to “culturally” attack the fruit rot issue. “This year we’re gong back to pruning some beds. The hope is that opening up the canopy will lead to a drier canopy and less fruit rot,” Mike says. “We haven’t done it in a few years, though other growers have, so we’re going back to it to see what we can find out.” Other things Mike’s team is working on: Tim Bourgeois is working on getting bees, as well as making sure we’re compliant on safety regulations; Matt Stiles is already working on young beds, replacing some plants that popped out during winter flood; Vanessa DeJesus is going through ICM supplies and making sure we have everything we needed before we kick into high gear.

And, of course, our team is doing the usual ongoing equipment maintenance as well as designing some improvements. “We experimented last year with the dry fertilizer applications on the new buggy,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann. “We learned a lot from that; we discovered it was under-powered, as well as having a few other small issues, so we’re remedying that. We’re also going to be experimenting with using it for liquid applications; it may not be the final unit that we use, but it’s going to teach us a lot. Mike’s working on the criteria for this; we’ll pick one or two systems that will use it exclusively for the entire season and see how we do.” We’re also moving ahead with the next stage of pump automation as well as thinking ahead to harvest. “There are quite a few things we need to do there,” Bryan says. “We’re going to build two more blower tractors, and we’re getting a third bog side cleaner. We’re also going to have some folks come in and talk to us about how to tweak our machinery at the loading platform to try and eliminate rot before sending fruit up to Chatsworth.”

That’s quite a list, but our team, as always, is prepared to work hard and do everything we do better every day!

Post harvest clean-up 2016

All of our harvest teams had a strong finish, and now we’re on to cleaning!

harvest-cleanup-198

“Cleaning ditches, cleaning excess leaves from bogs, cleaning up everything from harvest. Grass, weeds, debris: all of it,” says COO Byran vonHahmann. “Then once that’s done, we’ll have a crew installing swan string.” Under the direction of Matt Giberson, our foremen are trying out some new equipment to help with some of debris cleanup.

harvest-cleanup-087

“We’re trying out some new-to-us equipment that municipalities use for leaf and brush pick-up,” Bryan says. “When we harvest and gather off the same corner of the bog every year, all the leaves come to that corner and settle there. Those are hard to rake out of the vines, and then year after year they settle to the ground. Which means that eventually they’ll choke the vines out and kill them. With some bogs, especially the bigger ones, you end up with a lot and that space becomes significant. So the plan is to vacuum those areas right out. We tested it a couple of weeks ago and it worked really, really well to help us reclaim those corners and keep them healthy.”

harvest-cleanup-205

At the same time, the crew is cleaning out the ditches inside the older bogs.

harvest-cleanup-140

harvest-cleanup-133

As far as our other post-harvest project, however: “There’s nothing new with swan string,” Bryan says. “We just have to get it done.”

Tundra swans are a tremendous annoyance to local growers due to their feeding habits. They are particularly fond of red root, a weed that competes with cranberry vines for nutrients. You might think that swans are a natural solution to the problem; unfortunately, when the swans 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.

Varieties-022

Varieties-024

Since the swans are a protected species, growers have had to come up with a solution to keep them away from the crop. At Pine Island our team installs swan string. To start, 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.

Jorge-Morales-233

Jorge-Morales-201

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.

Jorge-Morales-072

Jorge-Morales-066

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.

Once all of this is done, our team will be ready for our next targets: sanding and the winter flood!