Advanced Forestry Solutions

Pine Island Cranberry’s forest stewardship plan helps us to protect and improve resources by allowing forest practices to be implemented on the ground while maintaining a thriving forest ecosystem through prescribed burning, road maintenance, and boundary surveying, among other things. The cedar swamps of the New Jersey Pine Barrens help to filter and purify water by absorbing and filtering pollutants and sediment. Since the three most important things to the cranberry industry are water, water, and water, maintaining and protecting the cedar swamps are high priority.

In addition to certified New Jersey forester Bob Williams, Pine Island Cranberry has been working with Colin and Deborah McLaughlin of Advanced Forestry Solutions to make sure our stewardship plan is implemented in the most effective way possible. The McLaughlins have been in the business for about eight years. “We wanted to spend more time with family and enjoyed working outside,” says Colin. “We started out mowing, then realized it wasn’t a full-time occupation.” They started out working with pine and oak, then moved onto the Atlantic white cedar when they started working with us. “It’s a beautiful product,” he says. “It’s water and insect resistant, and it makes for great outdoor stuff.” In addition, “It’s good for the health of the forest to make way for new cedars.” When cedars come down, their seeds can help regenerate the forest when the conditions are right, if other hardwood species don’t invade, and if deer don’t eat the seedlings.

To that end, work has begun on our latest stewardship project out at Sim Place, by the Savannah bogs. Colin and Deb will be thinning the trees in an attempt to reduce the number of red maple seedlings, which have been a problem on those bogs in particular. Red maple is lovely in a forest, but invades cranberry beds as windblown seed. Removal of red maple is a big part of every grower’s weed control program, and hand removal has been effective but time-consuming. Managing the cedar stands should hopefully reduce the issue at the source.

First, though, our team needs to make it easier for Colin and Deb to take their equipment into the forest, so they are building some access roads.

This means making sure the water flow is unobstructed. To make this happen (and to reduce waste), we use pipe leftover from building our floodgates.

CEO Bill Haines was pleased with how the work is turning out. The real test occurred when the team took the water off for ice sanding, and everything held up perfectly!

Sim Place dams – widening project

On a cranberry farm, dams serve two purposes: to detain the water used for irrigation and water management, and for vehicle use. Dam maintenance is highly important for both safety and equipment.

Our latest project out at Sim Place included widening several dams for various purposes. As with the Oswego renovation, it makes hauling easier, especially since parts of Sim Place are quite a distance from the home farm. Instead of several trucks carrying two boxes, we can use a tractor trailer that carries nine and won’t need to use as many trucks. It will be more efficient for both the gathering team and the packing house, as well as freeing up team members to be elsewhere if we need them.

Assistant manager Mike Haines says, “We’ve planned it out so there’s a route where they can gather the bogs off one dam in order to widen as few turns as possible. It was a little challenging, because before we decided this was a project we needed to do, there had already been some gates installed. So in order to do this, we had to go ahead and move/replace four gates. We also went ahead and made a completely new road in one section where previously a trailer would have had to make a crazy left turn.”

Another reason for widening the dams at Sim Place is to make room for new equipment. “Matt’s [supervisor Matt Giberson] crew is usually the one assigned to Sim Place, and they’ll be the ones working with the new bogside cleaner,” Mike says. “Having more room will make everything run smoothly.”


This week at Pine Island Cranberry we’re about ready for winter’s end, pretty as it is.

While our team continues to work on sanding when the weather permits, we have started another project as well: making boxes. As Facilities supervisor Mike Guest explains: “As we grow, our needs grow. As more berries come in, we’re going to need more boxes.” We have two hundred now, and our team is building another fifty. While we try to keep them in constant rotation, it helps to have a sizable reserve in order to keep moving as efficiently as possible, especially at the Sim Place platform.

“A few years back, we built those first two hundred boxes and we built them bigger; they hold fifty percent more than the ones we used to use,” says GM Fred Torres. “But we’re always looking for ways to get better. Now, with the renovations we’ve been doing at Sim Place and at the Oswego section, we’re looking to improve even more.” We’re doing that by starting to widen more dams at Panama and on parts of the home farm (mainly toward the southern end) in order to bring more tractor trailers in for hauling.

“It’s all in the name of efficiency,” says Fred. “Two tractor trailers together can carry eighteen boxes; that’s nine dump truck loads. It saves wear and tear on the dump trucks, it frees up some of the guys whose skills we can use elsewhere, and it helps us haul berries a lot more quickly.” So the plan is to get at least two more tractor trailers, eliminating the need for so many small trucks, and try to strike a balance. In order to make the hauling easier for the trailer drivers, we will be widening dams and turns at Red Road and several of the bogs by the Jonathan Wright reservoir. “That way we can haul and load right from the corners of those bogs,” says Fred. “It’ll be a sight, all those big trucks coming out of the woods!”

But before that, the boxes need to be finished, and various members of our team are doing whatever it takes to help get them done!

From Bill’s Desk: “Whatever It Takes”

Our newest feature: the first in an occasional series of entries by CEO Bill Haines.

At Pine Island Cranberry we believe in doing what ever it takes to achieve the goals we have set for ourselves. In fact, “Whatever It Takes” is one of the six core values that guide everything we do. This week three of our team demonstrated the kind of dedication it takes to put that core value into action.

The first day of harvest, our Sim Place well went out of commission when the harmonic balancer (also known as a dampener pulley) broke. It has been a dry August and September; our reservoirs are not as full as we would like. The well was crucial to flooding our Panama bogs for their first harvest. Louis Cantafio, manager of Equipment and Facilities, immediately went into action. He dispatched Ernie Waszkiewicz to remove the radiator from the engine to gain access to the balancer. In the meantime, he used every resource available to find the part. After locating one in northern New Jersey that afternoon, he made a four hour round trip to retrieve it. While waiting for Louis to return, Ernie rigged lights to make it possible to repair the engine and put everything back together after dark.

While this was going on, supervisor Matt Giberson, leader of the Blue harvest team, was successfully doing everything possible to flood the Panama bogs for picking. The team hit its target.

When Louis arrived with the balancer, he, Ernie and Matt went right to work. At 9:30 PM, I received a laconic text from Louis stating simply, “Well running”.

I am very proud of the effort, professionalism and dedication they displayed the first day of our 2013 harvest. They are perfect examples of the entire Pine Island team’s determination to do “whatever it takes” to be the best in the world at what we do. I am lucky to have such a team.

Game time!

It’s once again the most exciting time of year at Pine Island Cranberry: we began to harvest this week!

In addition to the work our equipment team has put in, our other teams have been unstinting in their preparation, as well. Once crew selections were made, the team supervisors started training the newer team members on the equipment as well as pointing out the more seasoned team members so the rookies know who to see for guidance if necessary. They also began staking the bogs to show the pattern in which the bog needs to be harvested to protect the vines from damage. (To go “against the grain” could severely damage the vines.) Finally, the supervisors began flooding the bogs, monitoring water levels until each was ready for the picking crews.

As always, water management is the most crucial task our team members perform. Reservoirs need to be at their highest level to begin the flooding process. A meticulous flood plan needs to be in place in order to set our targets. This includes determining how many bogs need to be flooded each day and at what pace; some will be slow, some more quickly. The water level needs to be monitored based on how long it will take to harvest the bog, raising it for gathering. Once the bog is harvested and gathered, the team supervisor needs to determine how much will be retained and how much will be transferred to the next bog, holding the water in a bog whenever they feel it necessary.

With the Green Team and the Orange Team working on established beds at Sim Place and the home farm, CEO Bill Haines took a ride out to the two and three year beds at Panama, which we are picking for the first time. When you plant a new bed, it’s usually a three-year cycle. “First year, roots; second year, shoots; third year, fruits”, as the saying goes, though if there is enough fruit we try to pick early. When asked why, Bill explains: “With cranberries, we always plant from vines because then they come up true. If you plant Crimson Queen or Stevens, you get Crimson Queen or Stevens. But cranberries will also come up from the seed.” In a young bog, our team might decide to pick if there’s a lot of fruit already in there. “It might not be entirely useable, but if we leave it, the fruit drops off and rots into the ground. We won’t know exactly what will come up, but chances are it won’t be as productive. It won’t have the same genetics.” Bill calls those “mutts”. “Mutts will take over a bog if you let them; they grow more vines than fruits. They bloom at different times, making it impossible to time fertilizer and fungicide. They go backwards instead of getting better.”

The official numbers aren’t in yet, but yesterday the gathering crew had hauled 68 boxes from Panama #6.

Bill says, “I can’t say as a farmer it’s going to be a great crop. But I would say that I think it could be a great crop this year.”

Wildlife management

One of our core values here at Pine Island Cranberry is protecting the environment: caring for the place where we live, work, and grow. The entire property is located within the boundaries of the New Jersey Pinelands, a region covered with pitch pines, Atlantic white cedars, oaks, and maples. Fire is a major contributor to the ecology of the Pinelands region, and most native plants are fire-resistant. Controlled burning maintains the vegetative balance of the area and reduces the risk of wild fires, maintaining critical habitats for rare plant species.

In order to assess our maintenance plan, our CEO Bill Haines meets frequently with Ted Gordon, a research specialist with more than 35 years experience in botanical studies, including contributions to major plant studies of endangered species in the Pinelands. A former Pinelands Commissioner, Ted primarily conducts rare species surveys and research, monitors habitats, and designs management plans for the conservation and enhancement of rare plants, and we are very fortunate to have access to his knowledge and experience.

The first site Ted visited was a roadside area that Pine Island has not mowed (upon recommendation) in order to protect a stand of fringed white orchids. “It really seems to have helped,” he says. “I have never seen so many in one place as I have this year. Delaying mowing seems to have really made an impact.”

Ted comes out to visit the Sim Place property every year since we started the renovations. “There is a significant patch that has been visited by botanists from all over the world for nearly a century,” he says. “I’ve seen hundreds of species in there. Letting it go probably helped for a bit, but not doing anything at all encourages grasses to overwhelm flowering plants. At this point, you probably need to try mowing, at least a little, and see what the reaction is. Last year was the first time it’s been done in a long time, and I’d like to see some of this try to come back.” In previous years, there had been enough foot traffic to help keep the grasses at bay, but with no activity at all they really took over. “Many rare species are still here,” Ted says. “It’s definitely worth the effort to try and bring them back.”

“Pine Island has always been good about working with others on conservancy and trying to maintain balance,” Ted says. He’s been around the cranberry industry since his twenties, and has worked closely with most of the area growers, who all grant him access to study the wildlife on their property. As a botanist, he is finding all kinds of plants growing near cultivated beds, more so than he’s finding anywhere else. “Cranberry properties have the most diversity thanks to common practices, like burning and mowing. What would Burlington County look like now without the cranberry growers? The pines would be gone. Cranberry growers aren’t the bad guys. We wouldn’t have this. There would be houses out here. I’d hate to think of this place without cranberries. All you have to do is go to other counties and you’ll see.”

Renovation and progression

If you’ve been paying attention over the past year, you’ll know that one of Pine Island’s core values is continuous improvement: doing everything we do better every day. Over the past few weeks, we’ve been taking you through our efforts at improving drainage, and part of that is making sure that the soil in our newer beds is doing what it’s supposed to do.

According to the UMass Cranberry Station: “Cranberry bog soil is unique in that it consists of alternating layers of sand and organic matter. Dead leaves accumulate over the course of time and sand is added to the bed surface every 2-5 years to encourage upright production and maintain productivity. In contrast to normal agricultural soils, cranberry soil requires no tilling, remains undisturbed over time, and little mixing of sand and organic matter occurs.”

However, with our Sim Place bogs, we’ve had to become, in Bill’s words, “bog doctors”: adding ditches, installing more underdrain, repairing existing underdrain, and replanting weak areas. “It’s making it better,” he says. “But we’re not where we should be.” While it’s not an ideal situation, “[t]he bogs at Sim Place weren’t very productive when we started. Anything they’ve been producing is a bonus. But we need to make a plan. What’s been working for us on the home farm is not going to work out there, because the soil isn’t uniform. We need to figure out what we have, and get ahead of it.”

This week, Bill sat down with GM Fred Torres, PIICM manager Cristina Tassone, team members Jeremy Fenstermaker and Matt Giberson, Dan Schiffhauer of Ocean Spray, Peter Oudemans of Rutgers University, and Joan Davenport of Washington State University in order to weigh some options and work on a plan for the next round of renovations.

The bogs at Sim Place have been of mixed construction, and the same methods that we’ve used at the home farm haven’t always worked out there. Papoose #1 has had several issues with drainage, partly due to the type of soil we added on top. You can see where our team has tried several different drainage improvement methods, such as underdrain at varying depths and adding a ditch just last fall.

We have been able to get this bog to dry out, but now we have to micromanage different growth stages of the plants we used to get the bog to fill in. Just as we do in Fishhead #1, we have established areas and rooted cuttings in addition to pressed-in vines. This map shows the different planting areas so when we irrigate, anyone will know where to let sprinklers run and where to shut them off.

Getting back to our discussion with the experts: the key to renovation is soil testing, which is required for optimum yield and quality of berries. The question here is: how deep will we need to go for a core sample, and how many samples should we take? Bill, concerned with layers for adequate drainage, commented that as long as we have two feet of sand plus the topsoil layer, what’s underneath doesn’t really matter. Joan, Dan, and Peter all agreed that it allowed for ideal underdrain installation as well as capillary rise (rise of water into the root zone).

Since consistent uniform texture is what’s needed, we will need to acquire the proper equipment, although we will be able to test the soil ourselves, Joan says. And fortunately, “even with gravel in some of these soils, they are so much easier to probe into than regular mineral soils,” she adds. “And should you run into clay, it’s wet enough that you won’t damage your equipment.” While this is not an issue on the home farm, Sim Place has a lot more variability, and in addition to drainage issues, the soil needs to be able to take the essential nutrients to help both new and established beds.

The end result of the discussion: we will need to make a 50′ x 50′ grid and take the soil samples. Once we determine precisely what soil layers we have, we draw up a plan and decide how we make the bed uniform in order to make the best decisions regarding irrigation as well as water filtration. The more efficient we become with our renovation process, the better our production.

Water micromanagement

Continuing with our more in-depth look at Pine Island’s water management program, this week we took a look at our water micro-management program in our young bogs. Now that the lampinenometers and new underdrain have been installed, it’s time to start monitoring them.

Mechanical ditch cleaning has been completed for all the young bogs; Kelvin Colon’s team cleaned out pipes and unplugged underdrain endpipes where necessary. Every morning, he or supervisor Kylie Naylor head out to read the tensiometers and lampinenometers, as well as check the soil. (To recap: lampinenometers measure the water table beneath the cranberry bed to make sure there is a sufficient depth to provide water to the root zone by capillary rise while at the same avoiding oversaturation.)

Kylie’s major task has been creating the micro-maps for water management. “The young bogs are our high maintenance bogs, so they require a lot of care,” Kylie says. Fishhead #1, which took on a lot of water in the Labor Day storm and needed some replanting, has three different stages of plants: the established area, newer rooted cuttings, and broadcast cuttings.

In order to best map the areas that needed more attention, Kylie took the irrigation sprinkler maps and traced them. Then she went out and walked the entire bog and outlined each area: established plants, rooted cuttings, and broadcast cuttings. “Sprinklers will have to be on for less time on the broadcast than the rooted cuttings, and for less time on rooted cuttings than the established plants,” Kylie says. The next step will be tying a colored ribbon on the sprinklers in each area according to code on map. “That will give us an idea of what to watch; this way, we can shut off sprinklers by hand as necessary,” she adds. When Fishhead is done, she’ll be repeating the process at Papoose.

Last fall the team also sanded one corner of Fishhead by hand, in addition to sanding the area where the rooted cuttings were located, as there were spots that settled lower than other parts of the bog when the dam broke in the big storm. The team also put in some gravel to fill in washouts, which should hold better against erosion rather than sand alone.

Team member Vanessa DeJesus also put two tensiometers in Fishhead: one in the established area, and a new one in the broadcast area, in order to keep a closer eye on the moisture levels. “Younger bogs need a bit more attention,” Kylie says. “This tensiometer [in the established area] is reading at a six, so that’s good. And the water table reading is in the green area, so that’s okay, too.” She then demonstrates checking the soil by digging some up with her bare hands: “If it clumps and stays together, it’s getting moisture, but if it just crumbles then it’s a bit dry. You can’t just assume that the tech is working; you need to get a feel for the bog conditions as well.” The tensiometer in the broadcast area is reading as wet, which is good, because the area with the broadcast cuttings are pressed in an area that is sandier than the established vines.

The New Production team is also monitoring weather conditions. Since we’re expecting rain, Kelvin is monitoring the ditches so he can keep an eye on the water levels and then raise the ditches if necessary. It sounds counterintuitive to raise water levels during a rain event, but the team is trying to keep ditches higher in new plantings in order to prevent erosion; they will then drop the ditches after rain and level off in order to maintain the water table.

Water management at Fishhead was also tricky during frost. Harrison (an established bog) and Fishhead share the same pumphouse, but Fishhead wasn’t being treated for frost. So Kylie and Kelvin had to make sure the valves at Fishhead were turned off. If they weren’t, the plants could get watered when they didn’t need it, and it would also make extra work for Jeremy [Fenstermaker], who runs the Sim Place pumps during frost. “It made it extra important to work as a team and communicate with Jeremy,” Kylie says. “We did very well!”

It’s this commitment to teamwork, attention to detail, and care for the bogs and their surrounding environment that helps Pine Island grow more acres and more fruit per acre, year after year.

New planting: updates

One of our April blog entries was on planting bogs at Sim Place. Planting was completed in May, but continuing care for the young bogs is under the supervision of Tug Haines, the fifth generation of the Haines family working at Pine Island and currently serving as a foreman in our PIICM program.

Once the plants are in, it is important to monitor the young bogs frequently to ensure that they are rooting well and remain healthy. Last week, Tug met with Bill, PIICM manager Cristina Tassone, and Dan Schiffhauer of Ocean Spray to check the bogs and discuss their nutritional needs.

The consensus was “so far, so good”; we’re not getting much leaf drop and the plants seem to be thriving. We’re not seeing many runners yet, but according to Schiffhauer, that’s just fine. “You don’t want kudzu,” he says. “The important thing the first year is for the roots to establish before they start running, and that’s what we’re seeing.” The PIICM team will continue to watch color and leaf size on the new growth in order to determine fertilizer needs and then modifying the plan if necessary. As soil and nutrition consultant Dr. Joan Davenport always reminds us: “It is ineffective to put fertilizer onto the beds until the root mass around the [new plants] is at least the diameter of a standard #2 pencil.”

As with the established bogs, heat is also a consideration. A ride with Tug overseeing the young bogs is very much like a night monitoring for frost; we check for the bog temperature (the thermometer is protected by a shade canopy for more accurate readings) and soil moisture before deciding if running the water is necessary.

You cannot always rely on tensiometer readings, however; you also need to get out in the bog and check for yourself. On her last visit, Joan also noted that “when leaves are young and tender, relying strictly on the tensiometers could result in a false sense of security about what the plant water demand is.” Yesterday the soil seemed particularly hardened and dry, so Tug decided to run the water for a couple of hours. Again, as with frost, it’s not just as simple as turning on some sprinklers. Once the irrigation is going, it may also be necessary to let more water in from the reservoirs to keep the pump supplied.

Then, of course, we ride around to monitor both the soil and the equipment in order to fix any possible sprinkler malfunctions. “You have a little more margin for error than you do with frost,” Tug says. “It’s urgent, but you don’t need to move quite as fast.” He needs to make sure the sprinklers are both running at capacity and rotating completely in order to get the best cooling effect.

Even on young bogs, however, maintaining a balance is crucial in order to avoid phytophthora. If it infects and damages the root system, it could take more than one growing season for the bogs to recover.

signs of phytophthora in established bed

effects of phytophthora on roots

One of the strategic drivers to achieve our mission is increasing production over time through bog renovation and decreasing the time to achieve full production, which is essential to accomplish our growth objectives. And, like everything else we do here at Pine Island Cranberry, the key to achieving our goals is attention to detail. All of the things on this week’s tour shows our drive to be the very best and the amount of attention to detail that implementing our strategy takes.

Planting at Panama

We’re always busy at Pine Island Cranberry, but now that spring is officially here, we’re really kicking into high gear. One of our big projects right now is renovating Sim Place, an old cranberry operation we acquired in 2004. We’re taking extant bogs, replanting with new varieties, and upgrading the outdated irrigation system.

Planting at Panama

These bogs are being planted with Crimson Queen®, a new variety developed by Rutgers University, chosen to maximize efficiency and increase yields when redeveloping existing bogs.

Already-rooted vines, as supplied by Integrity Propagation, are taken from the truck and loaded onto the planter. Six workers seated in the back drop the vines into the carousel (pictured below) and then the vines are distributed into the pre-dug furrow:

They are followed by other crew members, who make sure that the vines have been placed correctly:

And they’re ready to grow! These bogs should be ready to harvest in about three years.

Cristina Tassone checking on the newly planted vines

Irrigation, of course, is the next step, so it’s important that the sprinklers are correctly installed:

Bob Heritage installing sprinklers

Heavy supervision is not necessary, but Bill enjoys going out onto the property and seeing how things are going!

Next week: it’s time to start taking the water off the bogs.