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.”

Joan Davenport – May 2016 visit

This week, it was once again time to hear from one of our favorite visiting scientists, Dr. Joan Davenport! Joan, a former researcher for Ocean Spray, works with Pine Island Cranberry to provide guidance on fertilizer, water, and nutrients, as well as general PIICM management.

“This was an especially good visit, because there was a lot of education involved,” says manager Mike Haines. “We had a big group going out, with a mix of new and more experienced people, but everyone who was there really wanted to learn.” The team spent a day and a half with Joan walking through a variety of bogs on the property. “We looked at different varieties in different locations and looked at several factors,” Mike says. “One Stevens bed might need ten pounds of nitrogen, but we can’t assume the next bed needs the same. It depends on location, when the water comes off, is it an established bed or a young bed…all kinds of things.”

Tim Bourgeois and Matt Stiles both met Joan for the first time this year and say they really learned a lot. “Fertilizer applications and the specific requirements for cranberries are interesting to learn about,” Tim says. “The how, the what, the why. Cranberries are very different from other crops; they need less fertilizer than other crops do, and the water requirement is different, so you need a good, solid, accurate baseline for what stage they should be at by this point in the growing season. But Joan anticipated a lot of the questions I had in my head and answered as we went through everything, bog by bog.” He says it’s a work in progress: “I’m still trying to get a mental picture of what color plants should be during their normal growth stages so I can also know what problematic coloring looks like.” Matt agrees: “We seem to be on the right track with everything, and it was really informative; she showed us exactly what to look for.”

Things are a little different this year, as well. “We had to make some changes due to the cold wet spring,” says Jeremy Fenstermaker. “We also decided against doing a roughneck fertilizer application this year, so the nitrogen levels are going to be different; typically we’d start with ten pounds on the Stevens and Ben Lear beds but this year we’re going with five.” He attributes some of this to our sanding results. “You can see the difference in plant growth and vigor this year already; we’ll see how it affects insect pressure later on.”

“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.

Breaking bud

When it comes to agriculture, too much rain can be just as bad as not enough. And there’s been quite a bit of rain in the area over the past couple of weeks.

“Getting too much rain is not conducive to growing cranberries,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann. “We’re in the growing season now, but heavy rains can delay that, a little.” It doesn’t just affect the cranberries: “All the work slows down: maintenance, renovation. . .everything else we need to do. So our team has other tasks to work on. We’re rebuilding sprinklers, cleaning up trees, repairing dams, doing anything we can do in poor weather. It all needs to be done; it just means we need to get more done later.”

“The rain and the colder temperatures mean the buds aren’t growing as quickly as they should,” says manager Mike Haines. “Right now in the established beds we should be seeing signs of bud break, so Vanessa, Tim, and I are scouting growth stages every day…but the rain slows that down for us.”

In addition to negatively affecting plant growth, many tasks normally undertaken during the growing season have been delayed as well. “It’s held up some fertilizer applications we want to put on the young beds,” Mike says. “The minute you take water off you want new plants to start growing like crazy throughout the whole season. But since it’s so wet, we can’t fertigate because the beds are saturated already. We can’t use the Gephardt because it’ll get stuck, and planes are a no-go. There’s not enough acreage ready to really justify bringing the planes in, anyway, so those applications are delayed.”

“Planting is stalled as well; we’re still not done planting the Haines variety in Warehouse #1, because it’s too wet for the planter,” he says. “Water is sitting on top of the new growth, so we’re also talking about putting underdrain in there.” There is, however, a bright side! “I can catch up on office work! Right now I’m making a bee map, which will help coordinate the beekeepers when the time comes. We’ll be pretty busy when it finally warms up!”

Joan Davenport – July 2015 visit

We had Dr. Joan Davenport back again this week for her annual summer visit! 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.

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. “This late in the growing season, we are assessing the new plantings for nutritional needs but also for when to stop fertilizing, so that the plants will enter dormancy,” Joan says. “For established beds, we are evaluating the plants for how much crop they are holding and the bud potential for next year to develop recommendations for applications for the remainder of the growing season, including post-harvest and some guidance for roughneck in the spring of next year.” To do this, Joan and the PIICM team look at the amount and size of fruit, the length and color of both new and upright growth, and the amount of buds already set.

This season Joan sat down with our ICM team to discuss crop needs for fertigation, a process where plant nutrition is distributed via the irrigation system, and the extra care we’re going to need to take with our hardware and equipment, particularly with the sprinkler heads. Her recommendation for certain beds under review was to continue for another year. “One season doesn’t tell me how things will continue to respond,” she says. “Realistically, we start seeing results after a two year cycle when the same beds are being run on the same program in terms of hybrid versus strict fertigation.” She also had some recommendations for spacing.

Joan Davenport – Spring 2015 visit

If it’s springtime, it must be time for a visit from Dr. Joan Davenport! Joan, a former researcher for Ocean Spray, works with Pine Island Cranberry to provide guidance on fertilizer, water, and nutrients, as well as general PIICM 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.

“This year Joan came a week later than usual because of the cool spring; the buds were still tight when they are usually beginning to break,” says PIICM Manager Cristina Tassone. “In order for Joan to make a good recommendation, we want to at least be a little past roughneck. The timing this year was perfect. We were able to complete our roughneck fertilizer plan before she came. The growth stage was between hook and scattered bloom. We were able to see the potential crop, and she was able to make some recommendations that she would not have seen if she came a week earlier. We were also able to walk the bogs comfortably with the mild weather; we are usually very hot and watching for wilt as we walk the bogs in May with Joan!”

New Production Manager Mike Haines was pleased to see Joan. “There aren’t really textbooks about cranberry cultivation,” he says. “So it’s great to get a chance to actually walk through with Joan and get a practical education. I can learn both what kind of nutrition the plants need and also why they need it. This is the first time I’m learning a lot of this stuff, so I’m glad to have her here to answer questions. It makes me confident that before too long I’ll be able to make these decisions on my own.”

In general, Cristina says, “This spring has been different for us. We’ve had quite a few frost nights and not so many sunny and hot days to move the plants. It seems like the plants grew over two weekends. Now we are back to cooler weather and the flowers are just waiting to pop. I estimate that all of our bogs are going to look different after this weekend where we are expecting sunny days and warmer weather.”

Joan Davenport: May visit

It’s once again the time of year Pine Island gets a visit from Dr. Joan Davenport of Washington State University. Joan, a former researcher for Ocean Spray, works with Pine Island Cranberry to provide guidance on fertilizer, water, and nutrients, as well as general PIICM management. 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.

A high priority for her May visit this year was discussion about changing some of our renovation processes in order to increase efficiency and eventually, increase yield. CEO Bill Haines and our PIICM team sat down with Joan to discuss some ideas. Bill’s #1 question: could Pine Island put sand on renovated beds instead of our usual process of stripping topsoil, grading the subsoil, and then re-grading the topsoil? Some of the reasons for considering this include drainage: proper drainage has been our biggest problem in the efficient establishment of renovated/new bogs. In addition, some of the soil (deep muck/peat) at Sim Place makes renovation slow, complicated, and expensive. The goal is to create a homogenous planting medium to simplify management of water and nutrition.

Joan agreed that it could work; growers in Wisconsin have had some success with this method. The idea is to put on 12 inches of sand, which covers half of the rooting depth. Sand is a uniform medium for drainage. The issue is what kind of sand to use, as there can be a problem with using mixed sand: even a small amount of silt or clay can cause a sealed surface layer. The top two inches would need to be clean coarse sand to prevent us from needing to go back and fix the problem. The big advantage here is that we won’t need to worry as much about the quality of the subsoil, as long as the top layer is good quality.

After some discussion, the team went to various locations at both Sim Place and on the home farm to look at various types of soil. This, as Joan says, was “the fun part!” The tour finished at our latest home farm renovation project at 11 Acre/Ben Haines.

Joan finished her visit with us on the following day with a walkthrough to make nutrition decisions for our established beds. As always, 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 different for young vines as opposed to established plantings, as well. We’re glad to have such a fantastic opportunity to help us get better at what we do!

Downstown fertilizer trials

This week some Pine Island team members went to Downstown Aero Crop Service for an application clinic. This clinic is recommended for aviation crop services in order to give the operators and their pilots the opportunity to test their equipment with a trained analyst to help interpret the information and to recommend changes to improve performance.

The main intent of this program, which was sponsored in part by the National Agricultural Aviation Association, is to improve “economy of operation and application, as well as an increase in safety and reduced health and environmental concerns.” As we are in the middle of our growing season and thus concerned with applying the correct amount of nutrients via fertilizer application, this is highly beneficial to Pine Island’s Integrated Crop Management program: one of the keys to our PIICM program is giving vines the nutrients they need, when they need it. 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, and we are always searching for ways to become even better.

The morning was spent testing calibration for both accuracy and drift. “The control of the droplet size is the best thing we have to combat drift,” says Dennis Gardisser of WRK Services of Arkansas. “In the workshops, we show applicators how to configure aircrafts so they develop precise droplet sizes.” Droplets that are too fine can drift or evaporate, and droplets that are too large may reduce the coverage, in turn reducing crop yields by a significant amount.

Downstown is a great outfit to work with, and our team was impressed by their willingness to basically audit themselves in front of an audience mainly composed of their clients. “They put themselves under review to show us how they can do things even better,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann. “It’s ultimately about efficiency. When they’re more efficient, we’re more efficient, and ultimately that helps us to become better growers.”

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Nutrition decisions

This week we once again hosted Dr. Joan Davenport of Washington State University. Joan, a former researcher for Ocean Spray, works with Pine Island Cranberry to provide guidance on fertilizer, water, and nutrients, as well as general PIICM management. 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 (defined below).

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.”

Joan and our PIICM team visit several bogs to check growth and fruit set in order to best determine nutritional needs. They also take into account the sanding schedule, as sanding 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 reducing insects (by burying insect eggs) and improving soil drainage. This lowers the need for additional plant nutrition.

“This late in the growing season, we are assessing the new plantings for nutritional needs but also for when to stop fertilizing, so that the plants will enter dormancy,” Joan says. “For established beds, we are evaluating the plants for how much crop they are holding and the bud potential for next year to develop recommendations for applications for the remainder of the growing season, including post-harvest and some guidance for roughneck in the spring of next year.” (The roughneck stage is when the stem elongates significantly and all flower buds are visible, being held tight to the stem.) To do this, Joan and the PIICM team look at the amount and size of fruit, the length and color of both new and upright growth, and the amount of buds already set.

Once Joan and the team tour the bogs, she makes specific recommendations based on their findings, such as the sand level needed in certain beds or where to adjust for deficiencies.

“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.

Sources:
1. Fertilizer Use in Cranberry Production: http://www.cranberries.org/pdf/soil_fertility.pdf
2. Workmaster, Beth Ann A., Jiwan P. Palta, and Teryl R. Roper, “Terminology for Cranberry Bud Development and Growth”, http://longbeach.wsu.edu/cranberries/documents/terminologyforcranberrybuddevelopmentandgrowth.pdf

Plant nutrition

One of the goals of our Pine Island Integrated Crop Management (PIICM) program is to continuously improve our decisions: we often do this through learning opportunities via advice from specialists.  Last week, we had a visit from Dr. Joan Davenport, of Washington State University. Joan, a former researcher for Ocean Spray, works with Pine Island Cranberry to provide guidance on fertilizer, water, and nutrients, as well as general PIICM management.

Joan comes to work with us at this time of year, as adjusting nutrition is most vital just prior to bloom (and again in late July/early August for bud set) in order to help production for the current as well as successive years.

Joan goes out into the bogs with our PIICM manager Cristina Tassone (as well as Dan Schiffhauer of Ocean Spray) in order to best determine the nutrition needed for optimum crop yields and quantity. Another one of the keys to our PIICM program is giving vines the nutrients they need, when they need it; 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 different for young vines as opposed to established plantings, as well.

Joan’s expertise as a soil scientist with a specialization in perennial fruit crops is invaluable to our PIICM program. In established beds she looks for growth as well as amount and color of old leaves from as far back as two seasons. This means that it is critical to keep accurate, detailed records on past practices.

After surveying both new planting and established beds, Joan will send us a report with her findings and suggestions for scheduling and fertilizer amounts. We use this report as a guideline as we continuously evaluate crop conditions throughout the growing season.