IPM – Drones

Last month we spoke with Dr. Peter Oudemans of Rutgers University about how our fairy ring treatment is progressing. This week, he had a team out mapping the selected treatment site with drones.

Using aerial technology to pinpoint treatment is a crucial component in integrated pest management, or IPM. What is IPM? The UC Cooperative Extension says:

“IPM is an ecosystem-based strategy that focuses on long-term prevention of pests or their damage through a combination of techniques such as biological control, habitat manipulation, modification of cultural practices, and use of resistant varieties. . . . [T]reatments are made with the goal of removing only the target organism.”

Drones can be a tremendous help with this. Per an earlier article from Robohub, “agriculture is a big data problem without the big data.” The article goes on to explain:

“Rather than taking pictures and videos of people, [drones will] be surveying fields, using their high-resolution sensors to improve crop yield and decrease agricultural water and [treatment] use. . . About half of the “inputs” in farming. . . are typically wasted because they’re applied in greater amount than needed or in the wrong place, such as the ground between plants rather than the plants themselves.”

At the Pine Island experimental site “we use two different types, a fixed-wing and a quad copter,” Peter says. “The fixed-wing is good for surveying because it can cover a large area in a short amount of time, while the quad is for more precise work.” The quad is also easier to fly. This week, however, they only flew the fixed-wing. “It took three sets of images, which will hopefully tell us more about how the fairy ring treatments are progressing.”

“They’re going to change the whole way we do things,” says CEO Bill Haines. “It’s moving us toward site specific agriculture, not just treating the whole bog.”

ACGA Winter Meeting – 2016

Yesterday, several team members attended the American Cranberry Growers Association’s annual winter meeting. The ACGA winter meeting is always a good opportunity for growers and scientists to listen to research findings from experiments during the previous growing season and the researchers’ recommendations for the 2016 growing season. This year, Pine Island sent new team member Matt Stiles, as well as COO Bryan vonHahmann and Mike Haines, Matt Giberson, and Jeremy Fenstermaker from our management/supervisory team. Everyone from Pine Island who attended (both the newer and the more experienced) were able to take a lot away from the experience.

“I always say this, but the main thing I like about the winter meeting is it gives you a chance to hear from other regions,” says Mike Haines. “I especially liked hearing from Hilary [Sandler, of UMass Cranberry Station]; I corresponded with her this summer about some issues we were having with poison ivy out at Boricua, and she had some excellent recommendations.” He also likes hearing from various vendors: “It’s great to hear about new things people are developing and how they can be applied to the cranberry industry.”

Matt Giberson was especially pleased to hear from DPI on the use of drones for mapping. “I think that’s the way of the future, depending on regulations,” he says. “It could definitely improve our applications. I know Peter [Oudemans, of the Marucci Center at Rutgers] has been working with him; this kind of tech can give us a better chance to examine sun damage, as well.” Matt also enjoyed hearing from Hilary: “She talked about paying attention to the perimeter being an important aspect in weed control, which is something we’ve talked about here as we continue renovation.” He also appreciates the chance to catch up on research updates every year. “We hear from a lot of the same researchers, obviously, but there’s always something different, something new. Research is always ongoing, and it’s good to hear about the progress everyone’s making.”

Bryan vonHahmann back ups Matt’s observation: “It’s great that we are able to attract quality speakers that provide research and information to help the growers improve their operations. We got to see a glimpse of the future with drones and precision agriculture to the basics on weed management. Another huge benefit is getting the growers together so that we can share ideas and information during the breaks; it’s a good collaborative event.” And as always, we’re grateful to Cesar Rodriguez-Saona for putting together yet another fantastic program!

ACGA Summer Field Day – 2015

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

All in attendance found the demonstrations highly useful! Some took particular notice of Dr. Peter Oudemans’ talk on his work on the heat stress factor in disease management. “Peter’s talk on understanding the factors that lead to heat damage was a hot topic for us…no pun intended,” says PIICM manager Cristina Tassone. “This year we have been trying to monitor the weather with our thermometer–both automated and analog–our new weather stations, our new thermal camera, and we started testing internal heat this season with meat thermometers. We have been going back and forth with Peter trying to find the best threshold for when we should turn on the sprinklers, and his talk yesterday provided the analysis of the data he collected along with a threshold that will help us make better decisions.” GM Fred Torres agrees: “You never have all the answers; there are always what-ifs, but we’re feeling better about what to do and what to try. Peter’s work is really narrowing it down, and it’s getting better and easier.”

The other speakers were also quite well-received. “It’s always good to hear about the new varieties, what they’re coming up with,” Fred says. Cristina was very interested in Dr. Jim Polashock’s talk on virus symptoms and detection. “It helped me make a connection with what we are seeing in the bogs,” she says. “We have seen scarring on the fruit in the past, and weren’t always sure what to attribute it to. Seeing the fruit samples with the viruses yesterday will help us identify what we are seeing in the bogs better. I am also anxious to see what they find out about the ‘footprint’ disease in the near future.”

Yesterday the ACGA also distributed the “Identification Guide for Weeds in Cranberries”. Hilary Sandler, weed specialist at UMass, had Quebec’s cranberry weed identification guide translated to English for growers on the east coast. This weed guide is of very high quality: 200+ pages with color photos of each weed’s stages of growth, in addition to a lot of information on the weeds. In addition to translating this guide, Hilary added new weeds and information to be sure that it covers all the weeds present in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and the other east coast Canadian growing areas. “I was very excited to receive this,” Cristina says. “I know it will be very helpful when we create our 2016 Weed Control Plan.”

As always, Dr. Cesar Rodriguez-Saona and his team did a spectacular job planning the program; it was well-organized, informative, and somehow or other, he found a way to control the weather! Many thanks to Cesar, Peter, Jim, and all of the fantastic scientists at the Marucci Center, whose work with all of us makes the NJ cranberry industry increasingly better, year after year.

Rutgers Haines™ Variety

Some exciting recent news from the research side of the cranberry industry: Rutgers has released their latest variety, named for the late Bill Haines, Sr.

From the release:

The Haines™ Cranberry Variety…resulted from a 1999 cross between the Crimson Queen® variety as the seed parent and #35 as the pollen parent. The #35 variety is an unpatented variety from a ‘Howes x Searles’ cross from the 1940s USDA/NJAES Cranberry Breeding Program. Haines variety was one of 138 progeny of this 1999 cross, made at the Philip E. Marucci Center for Cranberry Research in Chatsworth, NJ. Haines variety was initially selected for its very high yield potential, mid-season ripening, large round berry (averaging about two grams per berry) and uniform fruit color. In 2007, the Haines variety was selected for further testing in advanced replication selection trials in Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin. The plots continued to exhibit the variety’s consistent high yields with mid-season ripening. Haines has also exhibited less fruit rot than Stevens in these plots.

Dr. Nick Vorsa of Rutgers explains: “Prior to Integrity Propagation and the diligence of Abbot Lee in DNA fingerprinting and virus indexing with Rutgers varieties, there was little or no effort for cranberry propagators to sell vines of 100% purity of a variety and there was little assurance that a grower purchasing prunings, mowings, or plants of a variety were ‘true-to-type’, nor the level of ‘off-type’ contamination.”

Part of the reason behind the decision to name the new variety for Bill Sr, Nick says, is that Bill generously offered beds for the early Rutgers cranberry breeding program: “He greatly enjoyed walking the Rutgers breeding plots on the bed and observing the performance of over 1,600 plots.” As the release says, “[e]mbracing new technology was a priority for Bill”; he never took anything for granted and was always looking for ways to improve the crop not just for his own farm, but for his fellow growers as well.

Integrity Propagation has been working with Rutgers for several years to develop Haines stock and is currently taking orders for 2016. We look forward to seeing the results!

Rutgers extension

Last week, one of Pine Island’s closest collaborators, Dr. Peter Oudemans, was promoted by Rutgers University to the rank of full Professor. His research with the Philip E. Marucci Center for Blueberry and Cranberry Research has been tremendously beneficial to the cranberry industry.

A great deal of his work with Pine Island and other growers includes the persistent problem of fairy ring. “We’re starting to get more answers,” Peter says, “and we also have better technology to get the answers. We also have Tim’s, and now Josh’s, research on the floral component and how to better control disease.”

PIICM manager Cristina Tassone has high praise for all of the researchers who work with the industry. “Working with the scientists and researchers at the Rutgers Research Extension is invaluable to us,” she says. “We have a unique opportunity, due to our proximity and our size, to work closely with them and provide areas on our farm for larger experiments. Being able to collaborate in this way, and share resources, helps not only us, but the cranberry industry as well. Peter’s experiment with Fairy Ring treatment is making progress, and he has started using a drone to monitor the experiment area. He also has a graduate student working on one of our bogs gathering data on footprinting (which is another issue for all growers, specifically in the Stevens variety). Cesar Rodriguez-Saona and Dan Schiffhauer are also helpful with any and all pest questions we may have, and Dan comes to the farm every Friday to walk the bogs with us to help with fertilizer decisions and to check up on the findings of our scouting program.”

The relationship goes both ways: “I’ve learned a large number of life lessons from growers,” says Peter. “Working with the people in this area has been phenomenal.”

Cranberry research

On Wednesday, our Integrated Crop Management (ICM) team had a chance to sit down with Dr. Peter Oudemans and graduate student Tim Waller of Rutgers University to hear about Tim’s research on the window for fruit rot control. Tim, who earned his undergrad degree in Biological Sciences from Rutgers, got his first research experience with blueberries, studying black shadow disease, and began working with cranberries in his graduate program. He previously presented his work at the ACGA Winter Meeting in January where it was well-received.

Peter introduced the presentation with a little bit of background on the study, which was designed to answer some longer term questions such as “Why there is a window for fruit rot pathogens?” and “Why the bloom period is so important and what don’t we know about it?” Tim’s research is also concerned with the factors in the plant that contribute to this window of opportunity, and how growers can use what they find out. (It’s also a cooperative effort: an endowment for this study was provided by the William S. Haines, Sr. Cranberry Research Fund, which was created in his memory to provide research funding that can help growers in the long term.)

Tim split his talk into segments, starting with a short but thorough biology lesson, moving into the experiment structure, and then went on to discuss possible targets for application. He explained the “ideal” environment for fungi, the anatomy of the cranberry blossom, and how fungi use the blossom to cause infection as well as multiplying to cause additional infections. The cup-like structure of the cranberry blossom is perfect for holding water and is therefore a perfect environment for fungal development. The crucial part for us as growers comes down to the timing of application: the time frame on the infection process might be as little as twelve hours during bloom, but there is a latency period, meaning we won’t see rot until September. That twelve hour window becomes our goal: how do growers improve their timing and help eliminate rot?

Tim’s research is just the beginning, of course, but it’s a fantastic opportunity for growers to work with researchers to obtain hard data. PIICM manager Cristina Tassone says, “What Tim is doing is what we’ve been doing ourselves for years; our fungicide program is there and it works, but so much of farming is based on observing what works and continuing to do it. Now we can build a foundation to figure out why. If we can change the climate in the bog…know the variables, the perfect conditions, what needs to happen to keep rot from occurring…we can be proactive instead of reactive and in the process become better growers.”


“It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.”

It may be a cliché, but it’s sadly all too true: thanks to New Jersey’s high humidity, the most serious disease problem faced by area cranberry growers is fruit rot. Though the fungi known to cause fruit rot appear wherever cranberries are grown, the degree of infection is greatly affected by weather conditions. Most field rot symptoms occur with high summer temperatures and moisture, per Dr. Peter Oudemans of the Rutgers Cooperative Extension.

We talked last week about how the weather has not been greatly beneficial for pollination; the same also applies to rot conditions. June 2013 has been the wettest June in recorded history in New Jersey, with an average rainfall for the month at 9.2 inches. According to PIICM manager Cristina Tassone, Pine Island received an average rainfall of eight inches both on the home farm and Sim Place. “In New Jersey, you have to have a fruit rot fungicide program,” she says. “And with weather conditions like this, we have to make sure our timing of the applications is right.” Fortunately, the newly installed underdrain is working very well to keep our bogs drained and as dry as possible, but we still need to use a treatment program. Our target percentage for rot is less than 3%; for anything higher than that, we are penalized by Ocean Spray. High rot numbers during the harvest hurts our efficiency. It slows down our packing house team, which in turn slows down the Ocean Spray receiving station.

Cristina checking vines at Otter

Pine Island is constantly evaluating the fungicide program in order to make the best decisions from season to season. We don’t have hard numbers on rot percentage until after a bog is harvested, but every year at the end of harvest we always revisit and see if we need to adjust our program. We have two basic programs: standard and intensive. The standard is three to four applications. “The first two are the most important,” Cristina says. “We have to cover as many of the flowers as we can. Our team is constantly scouting until we get to about twenty percent scattered bloom, when the first application will go on, and then the next is done when we’re at full bloom. The first two are where you’re going to live or die.”

“Sad to say, this year we have ‘perfect’ rot conditions,” she says. “In a normal year, we can switch to the standard program from the more intensive program, but one year or one season can’t determine that. It’s all about timing; we do what we have to do when it’s time to do it. If it’s not done? You can’t turn that back.”