Back in action!

Spring stops for no one, especially in agriculture, and this week Pine Island’s team went back to work with even more safety precautions in place!

“We returned to work with our top priorities being safety and the current crop, and we’re taking both very seriously,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann. “We’ve trained and are retraining on social distancing; we’re sanitizing all equipment and common tools and areas several times a day, offering rubber gloves and face masks, and providing hand sanitizer at all jobs and at common buildings. We’re also designing the various tasks that are needed in a way that minimizes co-mingling people and maximizes distance between people. If proper distancing of at least six feet cannot be obtained (such as in vehicles, or meetings, providing instruction, et cetera), everyone should wear masks. We are also asking that everyone minimize gatherings, meetings, and personal interactions.”

As far as tasks are concerned, Bryan says: “This week, we worked extended hours to catch up on our water draw and sprinkler install; by the end of today we’ll be caught up. Planting for renovation is being delayed at least one month to reduce close interactions and working through the logistics of getting the plants.”

“We’re no longer meeting at the shop in the morning; instead everyone is to go directly to their job site,” says manager Matt Giberson. “Everone is going to keep all equipment clean; for example, if they’re in a loader, they’re going to clean it first in the morning when they get in, then again after lunch, and once more at the end of the working day. If someone (or a family member) is not feeling good, they’re to call me and not come into work. I’m doing my best to keep people on the same job or at least within the same group to the best of my ability.”

The team has spent this week removing the winter flood and so far are hitting their targets! “Our goal is to take down 106 acres of swan string and to do five irrigation systems per day, with the final target to have all the water off by April 30th,” Matt says.

Our team is working long hours to make sure everything gets done (“We got a lot done this week, even better than I expected,” says CEO Bill Haines) and will be taking a well deserved break over the holiday weekend before going back Monday to start all over again, and everyone will keep looking at ways to make it even better. “This situation will show us new ways to do things,” Bryan says.

Hope all of our readers are continuing to be safe and well!

From Bill’s Desk: Keeping our team safe

One in an occasional series of entries from CEO Bill Haines.

On Monday, March 23, Bill addressed our team about recent world events and how Pine Island has decided to handle the pandemic in the short term.

After giving it a lot of thought, we decided the prudent thing to do was to shut down for at least a week. The management team will meet next Monday and assess what’s going on in the world, and then we’ll decide whether we’re going to work next Tuesday or not. If we decide it’s a no go, we’ll wait another week and assess.

We understand that everyone has families to take care of and bills to pay, so we’re going to make sure everyone gets their weekly paycheck.

We also understand that this is a farm and Mother Nature doesn’t wait. We need to grow the crop and we need to harvest it. We understand this is going to put us behind. Whenever we can come back to work, we’re going to do whatever it takes to catch up. If that means working dark to dark and Saturdays and Sundays, that’s what we’re going to do. We’ve never been through a pandemic but we’ve been through plenty of emergencies: in the Labor Day flood of 2012, we had 16 inches of rain in 9 hours that took out all of our reservoirs and many of our interior dams, as well as damaging irrigation systems. And we put all that back together in three weeks and started harvest right on time. So I know that my team can do that; we can do whatever it is we have to do.

I also want to remind everyone to do everything that’s been requested of them in terms of social distancing and washing their hands, etc. This is to keep everyone safe. This is not just time off; this is to keep all of us safe. Stay home, take care of yourselves, and take care of your families.

For our readers: please take care of yourselves and stay safe. We’re all in this together!

Preventative measures: swans

A niche crop like cranberries often has niche challenges! One of the toughest of those might be surprising to some people: the tundra swan. Tundra swans migrate to the area every year from Alaska and northwestern Canada and are particularly fond of red root, a weed that competes with cranberry vines for nutrients. When they fly in to feed, they not only tear out the red root, they also tear out vines and leave enormous holes that damage the beds themselves.

Since the swans are a protected species, growers have had to come up with a harmless solution to keep them safely away from the bogs. At Pine Island our PIICM team has been installing swan string for several years. The strings help keep the swans out of the bog by limiting the space available. “Swans are like a commercial airliner,” CEO Bill Haines says. “Having the strings up disrupts their attempt to both land and take off again.” Not all of the bogs are strung; our team maps them out where we have found red root and where the swans have been spotted. Just three acres of swan damage can give us a loss of 200 barrels per acre, or even more, depending on the variety. That takes three years to come back.

When setting up swan string, the team places rebar in the ground along the longer sides of a bog, about every 75 feet. On the ends of the bog, the team walks it out and determines how many lines they’ll need to run lengthwise though the center. Once the rods are laid out on the dam, a team of three to five people gets into the bog and walks the string across. Once the entire bog is strung, the team goes back in and puts up poles, which are used to keep the strings out of the water so that they don’t freeze. They’re placed in a checkered pattern, not necessarily on every line. The poles can either be cedar posts or recycled irrigation pipe. In addition to the recycling/environmental aspect, reusing the irrigation line is lighter and easier to handle.

This year, our team installed almost one million feet of swan string, which come out to about one hundred and eighty-seven miles. That’s a lot of walking!

Our team has also adopted a backup method in the past few years: an Agrilaser. From their website:

Deterring pest birds from open and semi-open spaces has long posed a costly and nagging challenge to property owners and managers. While noisemakers like propane cannons can scatter bird pests, they can also be disruptive and must be repeated often to keep birds from coming back. Lethal means of bird control—poisons, pellet guns and inhumane traps—are illegal in many areas, as many birds are protected by law. Bird B Gone’s Agrilaser® provides an effective, humane solution. It uses advanced, patented optical laser-beam technology to harmlessly repel pest birds over great distances—up to 2,000 meters. The handheld device is silent and completely portable. Pest birds react to the green beam as they would an approaching car, so they flee the area. Yet, unlike some deterrent devices, birds will not get used to the laser beam’s implied threat.

With some trial and error around timing and placement, our team found that it does have some effect. This year, the plan is to use the laser during the brief period that string has temporarily been removed from the beds we’re sanding. “You’d think they’d stay away with all the equipment around, but they don’t,” says Matt Giberson. “But since it’s been effective the past couple of years, it’s good to have a backup to keep both the bogs and the birds safe.”

A Team Thanksgiving

Our annual team thank you post! What are we grateful for this year?

Bryan vonHahmann:

Spending time with family and friends through the holidays, being part of a great team and completing another year, and new challenges that lie ahead.

Louis Cantafio:

In reviewing all of these things that I have been thankful for, I realized that it’s not my individual successes, but rather the successes of our shop team – a group of individuals that is responsible for building, fixing and maintaining over 280 pieces of moving equipment as well as over 100 diesel-powered irrigation pumps. This group of individuals ensures on a daily basis that the rest of our teams have the operational equipment they need for PICC to be one of the largest cranberry producers in the world. Yes, that’s it! – I am most thankful for the opportunity to work with such a talented, motivated and successful team! (and I like that they make me look good!) Thank you!

Matt Giberson:

I’m thankful for a safe harvest and thankful to be a farmer.

Mike Scullion:

I’m thankful for my new puppy, Kali, and my new camper, and I’m looking forward to many camping trips!

Joann Martin:

I am thankful that our softball sister Sammy Thompson came home from a 307 day hospital stay while battling leukemia and will be spending Thanksgiving in her own home with her family. #sammystrong

Jeremy Fenstermaker:

I am thankful that my family at home has grown up around here and understands what it takes to work here. I am grateful for their love and support.

Debra Signorelli:

I’m thankful for so many things. . .my family, friends, and co-workers make this walk a joyous one! I wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving.


Stef Haines

As always, I’m grateful that the team is willing to step up and write the blog this week, as well as their perpetual willingness to let me interrupt their work with cameras and visitors!

Happy Thanksgiving, from all of us to all of you!

Harvest’s end – 2019

Our team picked the final bog for 2019 yesterday, bringing this year’s harvest to a close.

It was a tough season, weather-wise, which meant we had to slow down a lot while waiting for color.

While for the most part, we relied on our bog side cleaners, we did return to the old packing house platform to maximize what fruit we could from the younger beds! We also did some experimenting to improve our equipment: “We experimented with grate spacing on the bog side cleaners to eliminate rot and trash, as well as the brush cleaner at the packing house,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann.

We made some changes to our process as well! “We also took an assembly line approach for gathering; now that we have four cleaners we were able to send a team to get the bog ready to go ahead of time, which made the cleaning go more quickly,” Bryan says. “We were able to cover a lot of acres that way.”

Bryan is already getting ready for 2020 by working on some new training procedures ahead of next year’s harvest. And in the meantime, the rest of our team is getting ready for the next big task: the winter flood!

The 2019 harvest begins!

Our busiest season has finally begun! Our harvest crews started picking at the southern end of the home farm and out at Sim Place this week.

“We started out at High Bridge because those are now the oldest beds planted with early-season varieties,” says CEO Bill Haines. “These bogs in particular are planted with Crimson Queen, which are our earliest variety. We like to plant those furthest from the center of the farm. As we finish picking beds we’re working our way closer and closer to home. It means we don’t have to travel as much for frost, among other things.” Conditions have been pretty favorable as well, he says. “The water level is good. And it hasn’t been too hot, either. We even had frost last night, which will help us with color.”

As of right now, we’re only running two crews, but expect that to change shortly. “We’re also picking the young bed at Osborne Spung for first time, which have been planted in Mullica Queen,” Bill says. “This will be our first significant harvest for that particular variety.”

Our team has had to make some adjustments to their approach, as they do every year. “Some of the regulations have changed with Ocean Spray on rot percentage and color,” says manager Matt Giberson. “Which means we need to keep an eye on things. When you’re driving by a bed it looks red enough on top but under the canopy it’s white, so we have to manage that. And rot tends to be high in the young beds before a canopy is fully established, so we’re testing samples before it goes to Ocean Spray. If the numbers aren’t great, we’re taking it to our own packing house and clearing it out before we send it up the road.” Matt also notes the optimal conditions this week. “We have plenty of water, but it has been a little dry. We’re starting wells now in order to be prepared in case it remains dry; we haven’t needed to in a long time so it’s good to have them ready anyhow.”

In general, the color is looking really good this year, he says. “Better than it was at this time last year. The TAcy seems really good for the Crimsons. We’re starting our third crew this weekend. The lake’s done, we’ll have Panama done Tuesday, then we’ll finish getting the early stuff from Sim Place. We’ll get the Ben Lears out, go down through Worth Tract, and pick all the young beds.”

If Matt had just one wish for the upcoming season? “We could use just a half inch of rain. Just a little bit! But I think it’s going to be steady as she goes. We got frost a little early this year, but that should help with the color. When we don’t have to chase the color, it all goes a little bit easier.”

Lakeside Garden Club

This week, Pine Island team members Matt Giberson and Debra Signorelli organized a presentation about cranberries for the Lakeside Garden Club of Cedar Glen Lakes! It’s unusual but very exciting to give a cranberry talk in the middle of July, so we were all looking forward to it!

The Lakeside Garden Club at Cedar Glen Lakes holds monthly meetings that feature a variety of speakers ranging from general interest to garden and environmental issues in the community. They are also a certified “Hummingbird and Butterfly Friendly” community and emphasize preservation of honey bees, so they were a natural fit to hear about some of our year round growing practices.

The presentation began with a brief Haines family history, then Matt took over and walked the group through a typical year in the life of a cranberry grower, listing the various tasks the team performs each season and taking questions as he went along.

“It was a good experience to present in front of this crowd,” Matt says. “It’s interesting for them because they live so close to local growers, they’ve seen cranberry bogs when driving through the area, and now they have a closer look at what we do. It’s always an eye opener!”

“We were privileged to have such a wonderful and informative presentation on the history of the farm and how the bogs run and are maintained,” says club member Carole Nevins, who is also the proud mother of Debra Signorelli. “Our members were blown away to hear about all the different machines used and the long man hours needed to grow cranberries. We are still sharing how interesting the talks were. We all agree, we will never take those little red berries for granted again!”

Big thanks to the Lakeside Garden Club for having us; it was a wonderful chance to chat with some lovely people!

Penn State Forest Fire

You may have heard that there was a bit of trouble in Penn State Forest last weekend. From the Asbury Park Press:

Firefighters with the state forest fire service worked tirelessly over the weekend to contain the 11,600-acre wildfire that’s been burning in the Pine Barrens since Saturday afternoon.

The raging fire spared homes and structures, but left 18 square miles of the Penn State Forest in Burlington County with less than 30 percent of its vegetation, according to Michael Achey, a warden with the New Jersey State Forest Fire Service.

The local community, of course, turned out in force, as they always do. Pine Island’s own facilities manager Louis Cantafio was on the scene for at least sixteen hours straight. “It was big. It really wanted to get across Route 72,” he says. “One of the best things, though, is you get there and there’s a whole bunch of cranberry growers: you’ve got your Sammy Moores, your Ben Bricks, your Tom Gerbers. A good portion of it was on the farm. The blueberry field on 72, the clear-cut on Red Road. . . we saved everything, which is what the forest fire service does. 15 miles of perimeter, interior, counter-firing. We were out there 16 hours; couldn’t leave until it was all fired in. Bill DeGroff and Tom Gerber were on the backfire side of the wildfire, and that all had to be finished. It really was a lot of work.”

“One of the most positive things about this weekend for me was watching the crew cohesion,” says Shawn Judy, Assistant Division Firewarden. “These men and women quickly responded to the scene, developed a plan, organized resources, contained the fire, and protected lives and valuable property without any injuries. There were many moving parts from multiple agencies involved with this incident. All of the pre-planning and relationships developed over the years by the Forest Fire Service paid off big time!”

“I can’t say enough good things about the forest fire service; they always do a good job,” says Pine Island CEO Bill Haines. “They work with us throughout the year, keeping us informed; in the past, they’ve helped us with controlled burns. This weekend, they did a great job protecting our forestry project and our blueberry fields. It’s really nice to have people who know what they’re doing providing that kind of service.”

Pine Island Cranberry would like to thank Shawn Judy, Gregory McLaughlin, Rusty Fenton, Jeremy Webber, Robby Gill, Gary Burton, Howard Somes, John Winberg, Salvatore Cicco, David Dorworth, Michel Achey, John Reith, Cindy Vallorio, Clifford Parker, Brian Christopher, Tom Gerber, Ben Brick, Trevor Raynor, Donald Knauer, John Earlin, Brian Corvinus, Dale Carrey, William Jubert, Bill Hamilton, Robert Stack, John Earlin Jr., Tyler Robinson, Walter Jones, Eugene Zazenski, William DeGroff, Chad Bozowski, Charles Poinsett, Roger Poinsett, Gary Poinsett, Alfred Sloan, Nate Pepper, Michael Haines, Doug Cutts, Eddy Carter, Marie Cook, BJ Sloan, Kenny Sloan, Sammy Moore III, Louis Cantafio, Dave Potowski, Brian Jones, Mike Gallagher, Rodney Haines, Chris Mathis, Walter Johnson, John Headly, Daniel Collamer, Craig Augustoni, Walt Earlin, David Achey, William Donnelly (and many more!) for all of their hard work protecting our community.

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!

Merry Christmas!

Bryan vonHahmann:

I would like Santa to give everybody in the world a cranberry product for Christmas. (We will help Santa source the supply). . .

Louis Cantafio:

Really, I have everything else, so . . .

Louis adds:

I cannot tell if Santa is very late from last year or early for this year, but I see that Vanessa’s Hydrema has received a Christmas upgrade. I think we would all be remiss if you did not get a picture this morning of Vanessa sporting a beautiful set of bright pink wheels on her Hydrema!

Debra Signorelli:

My wish is for everyone to get to where they’re going safely and enjoy what this special day really means. Merry Christmas!

Carlos Baez:

I want a $100 Visa gift card.

CoCo Mercado wants a completed truck.

Ernie Waszkiewicz wants peace and harmony (and bright white shop uniforms).

Larry Wedemeyer wants happiness.

Matt Giberson:

Dear Santa: Please make the rain stop.

Joann Martin:

I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and I would still love it if Santa brought a puppy.

Steve Manning wants a healthy, happy family and a good dinner!

Stef Haines wants the Phillies to sign Harper and Machado, since this already happened:

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from all of us here at Pine Island Cranberry!