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!

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!

Joan Davenport – summer 2017

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. “At this point in the growing season, we are evaluating the plants to complete the grown season and support next year’s crop. To do this, I look at the crop load, the presence and quantity of buds, the length and color of the new upright growth, 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 N[itrogen] demand. There should be visible buds and few to no uprights actively growing, plus few to no runners present,” Joan says.

“In May it’s the beginning of the growing season, so she’s basically helping us make nutrition decisions for the highest demand time of year, bloom and fruit set,” says manager Mike Haines. “She’s here to help make sure we get this crop growing nice and healthy.” For this, 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.

‘This time of year we’re looking at recommendations for bud set fertilizer,” Mike says. “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. So at all times, we’re thinking about this year and the next, but that’s it goes with a perennial crop; all the years are related.” A follow-up visit is always useful for the team. “After we start to implement her recommendations, we do adjust as needed based on observation; stuff always happens that we don’t expect. At Sim Place, we sanded a lot of beds this year for the first time ever, and it’s pretty mucky soil out there. The sand seemed to really stimulate growth even more than we would have wanted in some places, so we cut back on fertilizer there. Conversely, on the home farm at Boricua, we have new plants but it’s really sandy. The water drains pretty quickly and there’s not a lot of organic matter in the soil so we added much more fertilizer than we originally planned to there.”

“It’s going to take eyes on the beds,” Joan says. “But here, there are always eyes on the beds.” And as always, our PIICM team is out doing whatever it takes to make sure our growing season gives us good results!

Joan Davenport – May 2017

Every year around this time, we get a visit from soil scientist 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.

“I’m still trying to learn about cranberry nutrition myself, so it’s always a good visit,” says manager Mike Haines. “We try to cover the whole farm section by section, accounting for variety, location, if a bed has been sanded this year . . .if it hasn’t been sanded for a while that will affect requirements, as well. We also look at crop size the previous year. We’ll try to cover all of those things and then get her thoughts, as well as go over our decisions that we’ve already made this season. For example, Nadine had a big crop in 2016 and we’ve already made some nitrogen applications, and Joan thought that was the right call.” Conversely, he says, it’s also good to know when she disagrees on a decision and why. “This way, we can apply her advice throughout the rest of the season.” Mike also likes seeing her take on other issues as well. “We had some frost damage so I had some questions about that,” he says. “Do we reduce the amount of fertilizer since theoretically the crop potential has decreased? Because we don’t want to put a lot of fertilizer on just for vegetative growth.”

Joan also took a look at our younger beds. “To evaluate new plantings for fertilizer needs, there are slightly different strategies depending on the age of the planting and whether the planting was made from pressed in vines or using rooted cuttings,” she says. “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. 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. Using rooted cuttings means that while the plant must still develop a root system in the soil it is planted into, it does not need to utilize the matter stored in the leaves and wood to initiate and grow leaves – this has already occurred. Thus, when rooted cuttings are planted, there is about 1/2 of a growing season “gained”, however it still remains best for focus on roots plus runner development in years 1 & 2. This is an advantage over the use of pressed in vines, where there is a ‘cost’ to the cutting to establish the root system.”

“We’re all kind of learning the nutritional requirements for new Rutgers hybrids along with her,” Mike says. “We’ve been slowly increasing the amount of fertilizer from year to year, which makes sense since the newer varieties were bred to produce a larger crop. For example, with a bed of Early Blacks, we might put 25 lbs of nitrogen per acre, but double that for Crimson Queen.”

Overall, it was another productive visit with Joan, and we’re looking forward to seeing her again this summer!

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.”

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!

Sanding 2016

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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This year we’ve targeted over 380 acres for sanding, and over the past year Equipment team members Ernie Waszkiewicz and Coco Mercado have made some modifications which should help the process tremendously. Long time team member Jorge Morales explains: “We made some adjustments so it will move faster; we can probably finish at least an hour to ninety minutes faster than we could last year. New motors, new hoses, new lever, bigger hydraulic tanks, everything brand new. So far, so good; I think we’re going to get a lot more done.”

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We’re betting Jorge is right!

Harvest prep 2016: Part 2

When we talked about pre-harvest prep a couple of weeks ago, COO Bryan vonHahmann discussed how everything now becomes more critical as we enter the pre-harvest interval, in particular the final fertilizer application that helps the plants through the winter.

Team members Tim Bourgeois and Juan Carlos Gonzalez-Perez started those applications this week, and it’s going well. “This type is usually applied via fertigation,” Tim says. Fertigation, a process where plant nutrients are applied through irrigation systems, has many benefits, such as increased nutrient absorption by plants and reduced water consumption due to the plant’s increased root mass’s ability to trap and hold water. “We’re taking the truck around from pump to pump, starting each system, looking for any leaks. We’ll fix any, if we find them, then repair any clogged sprinkler nozzles before we start so each area gets the coverage it should.” Typically, a bog should be done two to three weeks prior to harvest, so Tim and Juan Carlos are mirroring the harvest schedule order as they start the applications. Weather can also be a concern: “The wind will blow falling water away from where it needs to be,” Tim says. “If the breeze is under 7 to 8 mph we’re in good shape; otherwise it’ll go on top of the dam, which is a waste. Yesterday we could go till noon, but the day before we had to quit by 9:30 because the wind was picking up.”

The rest of our team is working hard to get the farm ready, as well. “We’ve been mowing like crazy,” says Matt Giberson. “We’re running six mowers, including two on loan from Rutgers. It was really generous of them to do that, and it means we’ve been able to cover a lot more ground.” Mowing is necessary to finish prior to harvest because the grass can get really thick on the edge of the dam, which makes it harder to get the berries out.

In addition to all of the grounds maintenance, the second bog side cleaner arrives today. “We have to unload that and put everything together, which can get a little involved,” Matt says, “and then we need to get it ready for a practice run on Wednesday or Thursday to make sure it’s good to go.” For the practice run, the team will be at the young beds at Old 11. “It’s a second year bed, so there’s not much fruit,” Matt explains. “We’re not expecting great fruit from that, because it’s not really ready, which makes it ideal for a trial equipment run.” Additional ongoing maintenance includes clearing the weeds, especially by the pump houses, crowning dams, and working on the wider turnarounds. “Now that we have a second bog side cleaner, we’re going to need more room, so Steve [Manning] is out there with a crew widening the dams at Red Road and Bishop’s Mill as well as the top of the property at Rancocas, including gate extensions to make sure we can make the turn with no problems. It’ll help with sanding in the wintertime, too.”

Water is a big concern going into the autumn. “We haven’t had any rain,” Matt says. “We’ve been running the wells off and on every day, and with the irrigation you lose some on the reservoirs. The home farm is okay, though we’re hoping for a good rain. Sim Place is lower because that big reservoir is so huge it takes a while to fill up. And the weather between here and there can vary a lot; we can get a shower on the home farm while Sim Place doesn’t get anything. All the boards have been in for weeks, but haven’t taken any out so we can maintain everything. We’re trying to save water where we can, but we’d love to see a good rain before we start, especially at Sim Place.” So far, though, he’s optimistic: “The fruit’s looking good! Some of the numbers I’m seeing look good, and I can’t wait to see how a few of our newer bogs do this year.”

Improvements in nutrition application

While the busiest part of the growing season is behind us, our Integrated Crop Management program is still working on our last fertilizer applications before harvest begins next month. The amount of fertilizer to be applied 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. The three main elements usually added for nutrition are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. 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.”

“For the established beds, we’re doing a final application to make sure the plants have enough nutrition to stay healthy and set buds for next year’s crop,” says manager Mike Haines. “For the Early Blacks, we’re doing one more application, but the Stevens are getting at least two more. And the young beds will be treated for a little longer than that.” We rely on on stalwart vendors such as Downstown Aero for broad application, but for precision application our team is working with some new equipment!

COO Bryan vonHahmann refers to this machine as the “fertilizer buggy”, and it’s not hard to see why. As so many things in the cranberry industry do, the initial idea came from a chat with a neighboring grower. “It all started from wanting to get more accurate applications,” he says. “Bill Cutts brought his over for us to look at. Kevin Sooy [another neighbor] built the frame for us. His family has one, the Lees have one; all of them have hopper spreaders, and we decided we wanted something even more precise. So we added an air system with individual nozzles. It’s going well! We bought a computer to calibrate different products: liquid, dry, different fertilizers. We have a few tweaks to make yet but over time we’ll probably end up with another one here and one in Chile.”

Team members have been pleased with the results. “I like the area you can cover with it,” says Jeremy Fenstermaker. “Once you get it calibrated you don’t have to mess with it; it’s all computerized. We go by by weight; just enter the numbers for each different product and it’s dispensed at the correct rate. It’s always good to have another option. At first I didn’t think we needed it, but it’s been very useful. Much better than out there with a bucket! That 40 foot boom makes a huge difference. And it shouldn’t be too hard on the plants; you can barely see where it drove through the bog, with those tires.”

And, of course, we’re always looking ahead. “This is going to improve our overall efficiency,” Mike says. “We’ll be able to free up a couple of people to fill in elsewhere but still get a lot of ground covered.”