Joan Davenport – May 2019

It’s once again time for Pine Island’s annual visit with 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.

“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.”

“We didn’t have too much this year that’s been different from any other year,” says manager Mike Haines. “We toured a typical representation of the different varieties and different stages of growth in both young and established bogs and made a couple of changes from the usual applications based on what we saw out there. Traditionally, we start with 10 pounds of nitrogen in early bloom, but some of our stuff was really lush and growthy, especially the Stevens we sanded this winter. So Joan recommended lowering that initial application to 5 pounds so it doesn’t grow like crazy. And at Sim Place we have some of those old bogs on that mucky ground that makes growth really lush too, so we might skip the first fertilizer application entirely on some bogs there. Everything else was pretty typical.”

“We’re just starting to see bloom in the Ben Lears,” Mike says. “Everything else is a little behind but should be catching up soon. The Crimson Queen variety usually blooms early but we took the water off late this year. There are a lot of flowers on the young beds, but we typically don’t pick those for harvest. We’ll see how things go as the season progresses!”

Winter’s end

Our March tasks remain much the same as they did in February, right down to working around the inconsistent weather!

When a winter storm is expected, the number one priority is checking the water. The team checks for washouts, makes sure nothing’s too high or too low, and makes sure there’s no water on the dam itself. Team members make sure the main pathways are cleared; in order to do that, we send the front loaders home with some of them, which means once the snow hits, they can plow themselves out and start clearing the main dams. Then the rest of the team are able to go check the water or get to one of our facilities to do indoor work. Fortunately, we haven’t had high snow accumulation this year!

While the snow has been melting quickly, the frequent rains interspersed with low temperatures have been a persistent challenge all winter for our team.

We are continuing to run at least two sanding teams, weather permitting, as well as working on survey lines and our ongoing current bog renovation project.

While there was some concern last month that our team would not be able to do any prescribed burning, we did end up with enough clear, dry days that we were able to get a little done here and there.

When the weather isn’t coperating, the team continues to keep busy on several indoor tasks!

Sanding changes

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

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

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

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

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

Sanding 2019

Winter tasks are well underway! The winter flooding has begun, which means that it’s once again time to start sanding.

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Sanding is a fundamental component of our Pine Island Integrated Crop Management (PIICM) program, helping us manage the relationship between water, soil, weather, disease, insects, weeds, and nutrition. Sanding is a process where we apply a thin layer of sand on the bog surface every four years on a rotating basis: one inch for established bogs, a half-inch for young bogs. This procedure helps improve growth and yield by stimulating the development of new uprights (covering the base of the roots strengthens the root system and creates a more healthy vine) while also suppressing disease and reducing insects (by burying weed seed, spores, and insect eggs). It also improves soil drainage while at the same time absorbing and releasing heat so that frost danger in spring is lessened. This increases our efficiency by lowering the need for extra plant nutrition as well as saving water by cutting down frost irrigation times.

The routine usually remains the same every year. First, we check water levels: our team needs to make sure the water is the right depth so our sanding barge doesn’t get stuck on any vines or worse, tear them out. Also, the sand needs to be as pure as possible in order to prevent soil compaction (which can restrict water and limit growth) so we screen our sand before using it on the barge to take out any clay, stones, or other debris which could cause problems.

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

Preparing for spring 2018

The weather sure likes to keep things interesting around here! Just two weeks ago we were experiencing an early spring, but this week we ended up shoveling several inches of snow. Nevertheless, spring should actually arrive for real before too long, and our team is getting prepared!

First, though, they have to do some clean-up. “A lot of tree branches came down during those last two storms,” says Matt Giberson. “So we’ve been clearing all that out.” The weather also, unfortunately, put a hold on sanding, but the team is very nearly finished! “We have two, two and a half days left,” Matt says. “We’re taking advantage of the time change to work a little later next week to finish it up. We would have been done today, if the weather had cooperated, but unfortunately it did not!”

Once that’s finished, though, the team will take advantage of the location. “Once we’re done, we’re going to patch up some dams that need work over at Sim Place, since we’ll have all the equipment we’ll need for that over there already. In the meantime, we’ll bring the sanding barges back and move on to installing gates up at the Cedar Swamp renovation.”

We’ll also be taking off the water before too long! “We’ll have a small crew doing early draw this year,” Matt says. “The plan is to do two to three systems a day to get ahead of that, concentrating on the young beds that we’re not going to frost protect this year. The priority will be getting Cedar Swamp ready to go so we can get the planting started. The earlier we plant, the earlier we get a head start on the growing season.”

As far as the established beds are concerned, the last two days of March the team will be installing the sprinklers before starting to take the rest of the water off the first week of April. “I haven’t done the numbers yet, but we’re shooting for four to five systems a day,” says Matt. “We’re not doing anything too unusual, but we have a lot of work ahead of us!”

The team has a busy spring planned, but there’s no doubt they’ll do whatever it takes to get it all done. And don’t forget, if you want to join them, we’re still looking for an ICM foreman!

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!

First snow of 2018

Not sure if anyone’s heard anything about it, but it’s been a bit cold recently and we’ve even had some snow in the region!

The cold has been a struggle even without the snow. “We haven’t been doing any sanding, obviously,” says Matt Giberson. “At least, not until it thaws out, and in order to do that we need a good rain to melt the ice. We’re at least a week or two from that even happening right now.”

The farm ended up getting about ten to twelve inches in yesterday’s storm, and the team did a lot of work beforehand to get ready. “Some of it was already done as part of the usual routine,” says Louis Cantafio. “But we made sure everything was buttoned up. And in this cold, we’re trying to warm stuff up longer, but otherwise it’s steady as she goes.”

Wednesday was all about storm prep. “We’ve been keeping an eye on the models but you never know what you’re going to get,” said Matt. “We could get anything from one to four inches to one to four feet. But we’re getting the loaders ready and will drop them off with Junior, Wilfredo, Caesar, and Joel so when it hits we can start clearing immediately.” Water, of course, is always our top priority. “The winter flood is on everywhere, and we’ve got all the wells shut down. But it’s been a struggle because of the ice forming; it’s hard to judge what the natural stream is when everything freezes up on us. We’ll keep breaking any ice forming when the snow and the wind blowing into the gates, but we’ll see.”

Our team is also doing as little work outside as possible. “We’re keeping the guys inside because it’s going to be brutal for next couple days. When it warms up we can do outside work on the dams, but when it’s 3 degrees out it limits our outdoor work,” Matt says. “So we’ll keep everyone indoors until the temperature rises a little; we’ll work on sprinklers, build gates, do some clean up, get the camp ready for next year when the seasonal guys come back.”

It’s not easy, but our team will keep doing whatever it takes, whatever the weather!

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!

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!

Equipment – Spring 2017

A coyple of weeks ago we outlined Pine Island’s spring targets. This week, we spoke with some members of the equipment team for a little more detail on their particular projects!

“We have the sand screener in this week for preventative maintenance,” says team member Coco Mercado. “We’re checking the bearings and greasing everything, putting in a new screen in because there were holes in the old one…we’re fixing anything major so in the field they don’t have problems with it.” This is important, because the sand we use for this project needs to be as pure as possible in order to prevent soil compaction (which can restrict water and limit growth) so we screen it before using it on the barge to take out any clay, stones, or other debris which could cause problems. “Since they got a little ahead with the screening, now’s the perfect time to bring it in,” Coco says. “If we work on it now, when they need it again they don’t have to wait, they can just get moving. We’re just waiting for a few parts to come in and it’ll be back out there!”

Other ongoing shop projects include a revamp of the debris trucks that we use in conjunction with our bog side cleaners.

“We had some issues during the last harvest season because the trucks were getting a little top heavy,” says team member Fred Henschel. “We’re going to knock a foot off to help with that. I’m cutting the original ones apart and making them more like the newer ones with the exposed sides and and painting them all to match. Very similar to the original trucks, but a foot shorter in hopes of them being easier to control; there was so much weight hanging off the back that it grew really difficult for the drivers to steer once the trucks filled up. We’re modifying a couple other little things such as changing the way doors are hinged so if something gets stuck, it’ll be easier to access. Whatever we can do to make it easier, better. And in addition to fixing the original four, we’re building three more brand new ones!”

The next phase in our automation program is also underway just in time for the upcoming frost season! Pump automation has been a boon to our operation. Field data is sent wirelessly to a master controller, which continuously communicates with the network of devices, sending commands to turn on engines and pumps when needed. It gives our team a lot more control: the computer actually handles a lot of the start-up and shut-down process, which is what usually takes up a big chunk of the time an operator is out there running water, either during frost or heat. It also helps us reduce our fuel cost and wear and tear on vehicles as well as protecting that most crucial resource for a cranberry operation: water!