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!

Mild weather!

An unseasonably mild February means our team is able to focus very easily on midwinter projects such as sanding and prescribed burning.

“We burned roughly 900 acres last week with a 5 or 6 man crew, and then Gerard and I finished two small blocks yesterday, since we had the opportunity,” says manager of operations Matt Giberson. “It’s been a challenge because the weather’s been so dry. For a newbie it’s a little stressful sometimes, especially when we’re trying not to burn certain blocks, which usually means having to burn around some trees. It’s like doing a jigsaw puzzle.”

It’s also important to make sure everyone’s communicating and everyone’s doing the right thing. “We all had radios, and we all went over the plan prior to burning,” Matt says. “We discussed our targets, we all looked over the maps. Friday we did 500 acres with 6 guys; it was a big day. Monday we had a crew of 5 and it was a bit more of a challenge due to the dry weather; we had to be careful to do things slow.” But the end is in sight! There are only about 100 acres to go and then the team will have hit our target for the year, and then Matt and Bill will discuss next year’s plan and pinpoint some areas that haven’t been touched in a long time.

“The real key is communicating with Shawn and Sammy and Bill Hamilton,” Matt says. “It’s great having such a good working relationship with those guys. They’ve been busy, too; this weather is highly unusual for this time of year and they’ll also field a lot of calls from people driving by when we’re burning. Which is understandable! But since they’re so busy, it means they’re around if anything goes wrong. So far our only mishap has been the back of one of our wooden gates. 900 acres, one gate. Not too shabby.”

While all of this is going on, Matt Stiles has been in charge of finishing up the annual sanding operation. “We ran 400 machine loads of sand yesterday, making it our third best day this year,” Matt Giberson says. “This kind of weather in mid-February makes things easier; sand goes through more smoothly and the guys are happy out there in their shirt sleeves. Everyone’s in a better mood, it’s easier to get the work done, it’s easier on equipment, and we were able to get a lot done with a short crew.”

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.

Sand-Pit-004

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!

On to the next!

Pine Island Cranberry is ready for spring! Our team has hit our sanding target, and even finished a little ahead! Sanding is a procedure which 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.

CEO Bill Haines is pleased with this year’s effort. “We found it was necessary to go back to our aggressive sanding approach. In the long run, it really helps our crop. So we tackled 361 acres, which is more than we’ve ever tackled in one year before. Matt [Giberson] and his team did a great job getting it done on time. In fact, they even got it done a little early.”

The water has already come off the young bogs, and our team is getting ready to take the winter flood off the established beds shortly.

Bog renovation, of course, is always ongoing, and there’s a lot to do before we start planting in the early fall! “As of right now, we’re moving a lot of sand,” says bog reno manager Steve Manning. “We’re putting sand down, widening dams for the tractor trailers, and pouring the concrete bases for the pumps.” They’re also beginning to install gates. Things are moving right along. . .now we just need the weather to cooperate!

Sanding 2015

Our team has started flooding the bogs for winter, which means that our annual sanding project is now underway. 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 1″ of sand on the bog surface every four years on a rotating basis. This year we are scheduled to sand over 350 acres. 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.

In New Jersey, it doesn’t always get cold enough for ice sanding (the preferred method for growers at more northern latitudes), so our team usually works with a sanding barge. This process starts as you might expect: checking water levels. Our team needs to make sure the water is the right depth so the barge operator 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.

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.

Our team also prepares by sending 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.

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.

As GM Fred Torres has said in the past, “You have to sand when it’s time to sand; you can’t wait for perfect weather to do what needs to be done.” Unfortunately, though, we had to delay a little bit this week due to the weather. “Heavy rains can slow the process down,” explains Jeremy Fenstermaker. “It’s a lot of wear and tear on the dams, and we’d spend more time fixing them than getting the actual sanding done.” That’s where new equipment helps: “Now that we’re using Hydremas, the work gets done faster, and their wide tires are a lot easier on the dams.”

Winter: Ice Sanding

Until this week’s snow, the weather has been both clear and cold enough that our team has been able to work toward our sanding target via the ice sanding method. A brief recap: 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. 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.

“We can sand under colder conditions with ice sanding,” explains GM Fred Torres. “We were out there when it was 20 degrees. You can’t do that on the water; as the barge is moving, water and sand are splashing onto the rollers underneath. If that freezes, it can cause a lot of problems. That won’t happen on ice.” To prep the bog for ice sanding, the ice needs to be at least five or six inches thick. Then the team drops the water underneath, leaving the ice to sit on the vines (protecting them from the elements) until the sanding is done.

“It was great to be out there,” says supervisor Matt Giberson. “We haven’t been sanding in what feels like forever.” He notes that while there are similarities (“The cleaner the sand, the better off you’ll be”), there are certain things that need to be adjusted as they go. The ice sanding team is using three different tractors, so there are always pacing adjustments. “It’s a little different than just measuring the distance on the barge. Some of the traction on the tractors was different; the newest one has better traction. The older tractors have turf tires, so they were slipping when they first started. But when we’re out there, everyone is communicating, and it makes us that much more efficient.” Matt added that CEO Bill Haines came out to see him with some suggestions for improving the workflow by re-routing the Hydremas when loading sand, and it sped things up considerably. “The Hydremas work so much better on the dams anyway, especially in this weather,” he says. “We’re getting a lot more hauling done.”

“Ice sanding is like painting a wall,” Fred says. “You can see if you missed a spot and go back to touch it up!” And as long as the weather cooperates, our team will be able to finish by their targeted date.

Sanding wrap-up

In our efforts to make us better at what we do as well as improve our efficiency, our team holds occasional meetings to bring everyone up to speed. “We talk about what we’ve just finished, what’s going on next, what our goals are,” says GM Fred Torres. “This way everyone’s on the same page. We’ve had a lot of bad weather, so we’ve been constantly re-evaluating the plans; we’ve struggled with that all winter. But the new boxes are 40% done. 20% of the sprinklers are already in. We’re doing what we need to do.”

PIICM manager Cristina Tassone has also been keeping her team busy. “The ICM offices are almost ready,” she says. “The ICM team’s been putting together furniture and we’re just about ready to move in!” She also told the team to keep an eye out for new faces. “We’re in the middle of the interview process for some open positions, so some of the candidates have been here for farm tours.”

Best of all, though, is that our team has finished this year’s sanding!

Supervisor Matt Giberson headed up the sanding team this year, and was pleased with the outcome. “The weather made it tough, but even with that things went well,” he says. “I was very pleased with how everything turned out. We sanded almost 215 acres over the course of 21 non-consecutive days, averaging 107 machine loads per crew.”

“The shop did a really great job with equipment maintenance,” Matt says. “We had no breakdowns that required shutting a crew down; there were some minor events that we fixed ourselves and only a couple of things where we needed to call for the equipment team.” He was also pleased at some of the new equipment. “The sanding box, on average, saves us about ten percent of the sand, and we actually move at a faster pace with it. That saves us from cleaning ditches in the spring, wasting sand on the dams, and extra work with dredging, screening, and hauling. It takes a little longer to move from one side of the bog to the other, but the team has been brainstorming solutions that should help us improve on that next year.”

Sandbox

The ongoing project at Pine Island Cranberry this week continues to be sanding, and the winter weather has continued to give our sanding team some challenges. While there hasn’t been much snow, the cold can still cause problems.

GM Fred Torres explains: “It was less than 25 degrees the other morning; that’s cold! When we started digging, there was a crust on the mound of sand; as you dig, you have to try to get that off and then start digging into the mound itself. It mostly works, but some of those clumps inevitably roll down and it’s so cold they don’t break up. Some go into the bucket, some get into truck, and from there some get into the sander. We try to take them out as we see them, but it’s inefficient for everyone.” Team member Jorge Morales tried out the GoPro this week to help demonstrate the issue. (Left unanswered is why he feels the need to wear Dallas Cowboys gear in Eagles country, but perhaps that’s better for all concerned.)

GoPro – Jorge from Pine Island Cranberry on Vimeo.

Things improved after lunch as the temperature went up into the thirties, but as Fred says, “You have to sand when it’s time to sand; you can’t wait for perfect weather to do what needs to be done.”

One thing that’s been a tremendous help to our team is the new sandbox. Built by our equipment team, the sandbox was designed to improve efficiency and reduce waste. In previous years, trucks would back up to the location and just drop sand directly onto the dam. “We figured out that dropping sand directly causes us to lose at least ten percent of it,” says Fred. “That means for every ten truckloads you lose at least one. That’s a lot. But with the box, we don’t lose anything and we’re able to use our time more efficiently; we can get a lot more done. The box keeps everything contained; we don’t lose anything and it’s easier to clean up.”

You can see from Joel DeJesus’ point of view how much easier it is, as well:

GoPro – Excavator from Pine Island Cranberry on Vimeo.

With both teamwork and technology, our team continues to be highly efficient no matter what the weather!

Ice Sanding

Pine Island Cranberry has been steadily working on sanding via barge since the winter flood went on last month. 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. 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. This year, it’s been cold enough to attempt sanding via another method: ice sanding.

Most growers typically try ice sanding mid January through mid February, when conditions are cold enough to give them ice that can support the sanding equipment. At Pine Island, that usually means about five inches of ice. Once that happens, we’ll temporarily take the water underneath off the bog while the equipment is on the ice. The method itself is simple: an ice sander (that will spread an even half-inch layer of sand on the ice) is attached to a tractor. When the ice melts the sand will sift into the vines. Once the ice is gone, the sand sinks, covering the runners and giving the vines the benefits mentioned above.

Unfortunately, snow has been hindering this week’s efforts, and while the temperature has been cold enough to form a thick layer of ice, it’s actually been too cold to make ice sanding efficient. “You have to wait for this kind of weather,” says team member Jorge Morales. “It’s been a while since it’s been this cold. Three, four years maybe. We did ice sanding on two bogs at Weymouth and did pretty well over there.”

“We didn’t get enough wind to take the fresh powder off,” says GM Fred Torres. “At some point, you’re pushing the snow around and just spinning your wheels. You’re on the ice and there’s no traction at all. When conditions are good, the ice is covered just like you’re painting it, but with this loose powder it makes for a sloppy job.”

There are also problems with the equipment when the temperature drops into the teens, so Wednesday morning we didn’t even attempt to work outside.

Jorge says wet sand has been an issue as well. “That’s been an ongoing problem even when we were out on the water,” he says. “It’s been so cold that we’ve had problems getting sand through the screener; we’ve just had too much snow.” Fred agrees, but takes a pragmatic view of the delay: “We tried; you have to give it a shot. If the temperature had gotten into the twenties we’d have been okay. But that’s why we always make an alternate plan.”