Merry Christmas 2017

Another fun holiday post brought to you by the best in the business: our Pine Island Cranberry team! Once again, we asked our hard-working crew what they wanted Santa to bring them for Christmas, since they’ve all been so good.

(Except for that Louis guy, sometimes.)

Coco Mercado:

I would like more tools!

Larry Wedemeyer:

I want a new tig welder for the shop.

Ernie Waszkiewicz:

I’d like a new front seat for his service truck.

Louis Cantafio:

I have such a rich life that I do not want for anything!

Bryan vonHahmann:

Good health and happiness for my family!

Jonathan Irizarry-Vasquez:

I would like a girlfriend.

Joel DeJesus:

I would like a new car.

Joséan Hernandez-Vargas:

I would like a garage!

Vanessa DeJesus:

I would like more Hydremas…and I’m still waiting for my pink one!

Harry Mick:

I would like a new diesel truck.

Blondie Cruz-Soto:

I would like a Eagles jacket. GO BIRDS!!!

Caesar Colon:

I’d like a new Eagles hoodie and cap.

Scott Mattle:

I would like a new jet ski.

Matthew Giberson:

I have everything I need! However…I’d like Bill to get Nadine a Ford Raptor.

Jeremy Fenstermaker:

I would like a new front drive shaft for my Jeep, and for Tom Brady to retire.

Joann Martin:

I would like to ask that everyone gets to wake up on Christmas morning with the ones they love the most. A box that moves and barks under the tree would be nice too…

Stefanie Haines:

I want Nick Foles to get us a miracle.

Matt Stiles:

For Christmas I would love for everyone to have a great holiday with family and friends and a new GREEN tractor!

Mike Haines:

I want to get my Jeep all set and ready to go so I can go have some fun in it.

Thanksgiving 2017

Last year’s Thanksgiving post was so well-received, we thought we’d try it again! This week, the hardest-working team in the business tells you what they’re thankful for.

COO Bryan vonHahmann:

I am thankful for: being part of a great team and completing another year, spending time with family and friends through the holidays, and the new challenges that lie ahead!

Facilities/Equipment Manager Louis Cantafio:

I’m thankful that we have Stefanie working hard to make us all look good!

[It’s a tough job some days, but I’m here for you, Louis! Ed.]

Blue Team leader Matt Stiles:

I am thankful to help produce such a wonderful and healthy fruit like the cranberry for people around the world!

Manager of Operations Matt Giberson:

I’m thankful that Bill and company don’t mind my “Australian” accent. I am also thankful for all the great men and women that work at Pine Island.

Seasonal team member Sergio Sanchez:

I’m thankful that Pine Island has the confidence in me to provide me with new and exciting jobs daily.

Seasonal team member Benjamin Perez-Martinez:

I’m thankful for the opportunity to work here.

Seasonal team member Daniel “Cowboy” Lopez-Leon:

I’m thankful for everything, but most importantly that God sent me someone special to provide for me and my family.

Seasonal team member Felix Padilla-Lopez:

I’m thankful to be given the opportunities to learn new innovative jobs on renovation.

Seasonal team member Waldy Blanco:

I’m thankful for the opportunity to come back as a seasonal employee. Also I am grateful for the opportunity to take on important jobs throughout the farm whether it be checking the water or frost.

CFO Joann Martin:

I am thankful for all the experiences and opportunities that I have been given here at Pine Island. I am thankful for my husband and daughter that I get to see every day. I am also very thankful for Amazon Prime!

Admin Debra Signorelli:

I’m thankful for my two beautiful girls and the love and laughter we share together as well as being fortunate enough to work with a group of such dynamic individuals!

Team member Mickey Mercado:

I’m thankful for my family and health.

Orange Team leader Gerardo Ortiz:

I’m thankful for my dog.

Team member Junior Colon:

I’m thankful for my family and health and job.

Team member Wilfredo Pagan:

I’m thankful for my beautiful family and health and being a Pine Island employee for 38 years!

Bog Renovations Manager Steve Manning:

I’m thankful for my wife and kids being by my side all the time.

Accounting Manager Michael Vitale:

I’m thankful for my friends, family, and new opportunities.

Social Media Coordinator Stefanie Haines:

I’m truly grateful that this amazing team are writing the blog for me this week! Thanks, all; you truly are the best in the business, and you prove it each and every day.

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Pine Island Cranberry!

Harvest’s end – 2017

Pine Island Cranberry wrapped up the harvest early last week, and our seasonal team members are on their way home after another job well done!

Our team’s hard work wasn’t an unqualified success, however. “It was a disappointing season all in all,” says CEO Bill Haines. “The crop was less than our target in terms of barrels per acre. We had held back, so we didn’t expect to have as big a harvest, but we were still 10% below our target. And the fruit quality not as good as we wanted, particularly on the young beds. That was disappointing.”

It’s not all bad news, he says. “We had an efficient harvest. The team worked well together, our equipment worked well, and over the course of the whole season, we learned a lot.”

We’d also like to extend a special shout-out to crew leaders Gerardo Ortiz and Matt Stiles, who did a great job this (and every) year. They managed a tough job with proficiency and excellent problem-solving skills: water management, fluctuating weather, ever-changing personnel and equipment needs, and everything else a good manager needs to do to run an efficient cranberry harvest!

Bill remains optimistic for next year: “One thing about growing cranberries: it’s like baseball. There’s always next season. And we’re already training for the next season.”

Spring updates – 2017

The team is keeping very busy this month, as always!

Bog renovation is going well, with the new irrigation going in at Mule Island in preparation for planting. “We’ll be putting in the Mullica Queen variety,” says manager Mike Haines. “It’s a later variety, like the Stevens it’s replacing, so it should be a good fit.” A later variety means they attain their full color later in the season. Per Rutgers, “Mullica Queen offers excellent yield potential with equal or higher color than Stevens,” and while we currently only have one Mullica Queen bed that’s attained full growth, it’s been a highly productive one.

The reno team has also been working on erosion control, which is always an ongoing concern.

Things have been hectic this week with frost, of course, but that should be slowing down a bit. “It’s been a busy frost week, which we knew was coming,” says Matt Giberson. “But it’s looking like that will lighten up for a little while.”

Unfortunately, part of the reason we’re expecting less frost is due to the expected heavy rains this weekend. But our equipment team is making sure the Crisafulli pumps are ready to go if needed, and dam maintenance is ongoing in order to minimize the risk of washouts!

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!

Blog anniversary 2017

Five years ago this week, we launched the Pine Island Cranberry website! While the harvest updates have been by far the most popular (to no one’s surprise!), we are periodically amazed by how many people enjoy the little snapshots of our year, and are always touched by those of you who take the time to tell us so. We are, as always, glad to share with so many people the things we do, how and why we do them, and how much we love it.

Longtime readers of the website are very familiar with Pine Island’s core values, particularly our dedication to continuous improvement: doing everything we do better every day. Among the things we’ve focused on in the past year include working on the next phase of our automation program, improving upon our harvest equipment, working with field experts on our plant nutrition program, and, of course, our ongoing bog renovation! Our team is also exploring new ways to combat the issue of swans in our established beds.

We even added a couple of new features to the blog! A couple of new occasional features we’ve added cover some of the Haines family history as well as a quick look at some of Pine Island’s favorite vendors. We’re proud of our history and our community, and are glad to work with some wonderful companies that have similar goals.

We also did a couple of fun posts around the holidays that will probably become a regular yearly feature: if you missed them, check out what some Pine Island team members were thankful for this year as well as what they wanted for Christmas! (We’re still working on that pink Hydrema.)

And, of course, harvest has both its challenges and triumphs this year, culminating in our second biggest crop ever, and third biggest in terms of barrels per acre! While we remain unavailable for public tours, we did enjoy visits from the agriculture community, as both Ocean Spray and NJ Young Farmers & Ranchers stopped by. We also received some news coverage from Action News, as well as some delicious recipes after a visit from The Rachael Ray Show!

It’s been an enormous pleasure to tell you our story for the past five years, and we are looking forward to another year of achieving our targets, growing our crop, and remaining part of a fantastic ag community! Thank you for following along, and we’ll see you again next week!

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.”

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

We got such a great response to our Thanksgiving blog update that CEO Bill Haines thought it would be fun to do a follow-up for Christmas. So we asked our team members what they wanted Santa to bring them this year!

Admin Debra Signorelli:

I was already given the greatest gift of having both my girlies home for Christmas and we will be spending some quality time together! In keeping true to the magic of Christmas…a keratin hair treatment would be an amazing Santa gift!!!!!

Christen Stroehlein

Manager of Operations Matt Giberson:

1.)I would love to get duck tape for Jorge. 2.)I would also love it if Santa could bring us 42.5 degree days days from now until April 15 and one inch of rain every Friday night.

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Team member Tim Bourgeois:

I have been very blessed during 2016! I know Santa Claus will be bringing me many gifts soon which will include more blessings in 2017! My favorite holiday gifts include attending Mass, breaking bread and visiting with family and friends, kolacky and pfeffernusse cookies, and Stollen. This Christmas will include several beloved and familiar family traditions, as well as, some new ones. Some traditions have passed away, but there will be new ones to fill this holiday with cherished memories. I work with many wonderful and talented folks here at PICC and I pray everyone has a safe and joyous holiday! MERRY CHRISTMAS!

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Facilities/Equipment Manager Louis Cantafio:

I was hoping Santa would bring me a new pair of boots and a twenty year old bottle of port wine, but then I heard that Bill had recently been in contact with Santa, so now I am expecting an “employee of the month” sign to permanently mount at the head of my parking space!

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Equipment Supervisor Carlos Baez:

I want peace on earth. And a chainsaw.

Carlos and Fred

Team member Bob Heritage:

I want good health and to meet Mrs. Right!

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Team member Vanessa DeJesus:

I want a pink Hydrema.

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[We would like to ask Santa CFO for this as well, because it sounds amazing. – Ed.]

CFO Joann Martin:

I wish that everyone gets to spend time with the ones they love this Christmas.

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Equipment Team member Fred Henschel:

Santa loves me: I’d love a new truck, a new house, a case of Yuengling…

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Manager of Bog Renovations Steve Manning:

A healthy and happy new year and maybe a bottle of whiskey!!!

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HR Supervisor Stacey DeLaurentis:

I was going to ask Santa this year for a trip to Disney to stock up on Pixie Dust but found out I was on the Naughty List and getting a lump of coal instead!

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Webmaster Stefanie Haines:

I want Martha and Snoop to visit us next harvest to film a Thanksgiving episode!

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COO Bryan vonHahmann:

Not to have to use the snowblower he got me last year!

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PIICM Manager Mike Haines:

Cookware! Messing around in the kitchen is my new hobby and I’m having a lot of fun with it.

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Team member Matt Stiles:

For Christmas? I just want everyone to have a happy and safe holiday!

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All of us here at Pine Island Cranberry wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Post harvest clean-up 2016

All of our harvest teams had a strong finish, and now we’re on to cleaning!

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“Cleaning ditches, cleaning excess leaves from bogs, cleaning up everything from harvest. Grass, weeds, debris: all of it,” says COO Byran vonHahmann. “Then once that’s done, we’ll have a crew installing swan string.” Under the direction of Matt Giberson, our foremen are trying out some new equipment to help with some of debris cleanup.

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“We’re trying out some new-to-us equipment that municipalities use for leaf and brush pick-up,” Bryan says. “When we harvest and gather off the same corner of the bog every year, all the leaves come to that corner and settle there. Those are hard to rake out of the vines, and then year after year they settle to the ground. Which means that eventually they’ll choke the vines out and kill them. With some bogs, especially the bigger ones, you end up with a lot and that space becomes significant. So the plan is to vacuum those areas right out. We tested it a couple of weeks ago and it worked really, really well to help us reclaim those corners and keep them healthy.”

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At the same time, the crew is cleaning out the ditches inside the older bogs.

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As far as our other post-harvest project, however: “There’s nothing new with swan string,” Bryan says. “We just have to get it done.”

Tundra swans are a tremendous annoyance to local growers due to their feeding habits. They are particularly fond of red root, a weed that competes with cranberry vines for nutrients. You might think that swans are a natural solution to the problem; unfortunately, when the swans 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.

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Since the swans are a protected species, growers have had to come up with a solution to keep them away from the crop. At Pine Island our team installs swan string. To start, 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.

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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.

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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.

Once all of this is done, our team will be ready for our next targets: sanding and the winter flood!

Harvest’s end – 2016

Harvest finished this week with a bang at Pine Island Cranberry, and we are all proud at what we’ve been able to accomplish this year: 32.6 million pounds of cranberries, with 1,278 acres harvested at an average of 255 barrels per acre!

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“We started slow because we were chasing the color,” says manager Matt Giberson, “but by the end, we had all three teams going seven days a week and we brought in a lot of fruit. On our final three days we were sending over 1.5 million pounds of clean fruit per day to the receiving station, which is a record.” He says the three harvest teams did an incredible job. “It was a safe harvest, too; nobody got hurt. And Matt Stiles did great for his first year as a harvest team leader. His crew started the earliest, and it’s tough to be the guys who are going from early September all the way to the end when the berries just keep coming at you. Long hours, lack of sleep; it all gets to you after a while. But he did a fantastic job.”

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CFO Joann Martin agrees: “24 bogs set records this year! Nadine #3 produced 523 barrels per acre this year, which is amazing.” She also credits the team for this year’s numbers as well as their meticulous attention to detail. “Mike [Guest] always does a great job with tracking the numbers at the packing house, and this year with the two bog side cleaners things are a little different. This was Vanessa’s second year working on the new equipment, and she did a phenomenal job keeping everything straight. Running the trucks out there isn’t always the easiest job but her attention to detail made all the difference.”

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COO Bryan vonHahmann is already looking ahead: “Now that we have the yield results as well as the less fun numbers for things like rot and debris, we can start to build our analysis. We’ll look at what we did bed by bed, comparing it to our application records: what we applied, when, how much. We’ll also look at other activities like weeding, bees, and pollination, then try to determine improvements. For example, if we had one bed that was good but the one immediately next to it was weak, why? How do we improve the weaker bed? It’s a question of taking the large amount of data we have and turning it into something we can manage from, then systematically applying what we’ve learned on bog-by-bog basis.”

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“Obviously we were really happy with the crop,” says CEO Bill Haines. “It was our second biggest crop ever, and third biggest in terms of barrels per acre, so I was really pleased with that. We’re pleased that our strategy of accelerating the renovation of our bogs is working; I think that’s the biggest impact we’ve had. The team worked really hard this year as always, and I’m really proud of the job that they did. And they deserve all of the credit for this crop. We have stuff to work on, and we have to continue to renovate; we had problems with quality and we’re not sure why. It’s probably weather related, but we’re going to work this winter to have a plan to improve on that. But the team did a great job.”

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*Photos courtesy Nadine Haines.