Summer weather

While we continue to keep a weather eye on the…er, weather, Pine Island is fortunate to have been spared the worst of the recent storms.

Over the past month or so, we’ve received an average of about an inch of rain a week, which is a pleasant surprise compared to how the rest of the region has been faring.

Too much rain can have a negative effect on pollination as well as fertilizer application, but so far we’ve been pleasantly surprised; while there was some concern about the bee colonies during the bloom period due to frequent storms, for the most part we got through it. And while there have been a few days when winds or early morning rains have held up fertilizer applications, mostly Downstown has been able to fly.

While we’ve been lucky so far, our team will continue to carefully monitor weather conditions as the growing season progresses, and hope that things dry out well before this year’s harvest.

Here comes the rain again . . .

The weather continues to be a challenge for our team this winter!

“The past year we’ve gotten about 70 to 75 inches of rain,” says manager Matt Giberson. “It just hasn’t let up; everything’s saturated.” This means that everything’s been a struggle: maintaining equipment, fixing dam erosion, and hitting this year’s sanding targets. “If it’s not raining, we’re getting snow. We get a freeze, then it thaws, then it freezes again; it’s extremely frustrating trying to get a rhythm going. We’ll get two good weeks and get a good chunk of it done, then things freeze up and we can only manage a day here, two days there.” If the weather remained consistently we could try ice sanding, but the frequent temperature changes make that difficult.

The heavy rains this winter have also called a halt to other late-season tasks. “It’s too wet to do any prescribed burning,” Matt says. “It doesn’t look like we’re going to do any this year.” The ground saturation is also causing issues for our or survey lines: “There are certain areas the guys can’t get through; nothing’s frozen over long enough that we feel comfortable sending someone out to work on them.”

In the meantime, the team continues to focus on indoor work! “The biggest thing right now is making gates! We’ve created an assembly line with six guys, and they’re making five gates per day right now; our goal is to try to get to six if we can work out a more efficient process. We’ve made all the sprinklers, but that’s part of regular irrigation maintenance that we do every year; the focus is to recycle and reuse as we need it for emergencies or repairs for spring.”

“The weather is the weather, but it’s still not fun. Two or three inches of rain at a shot, twice a week is a lot of deal with,” Matt says. Here’s hoping for a drier spring! And in the meantime, our team will keep doing whatever it takes to work with Mother Nature.

Rain, rain, go away

The week between Christmas and the new year are frequently very quiet at many businesses. Pine Island is no exception, though in this case it’s due once again to heavy rains in the area.

Regular readers, of course, know that the number one question to ask when growing cranberries is “where is the water coming from, and where do you want it to go?” Right now, the answer is “Everywhere, and somewhere else!”

Bog flooded for winter

The winter flood is complete, so right now it’s just a question of keeping water at the right level in each bed. That can be tough when you don’t know how much rain you’re going to get on any given day, so our team is frequently pulling and replacing boards in order to keep the water at the optimum level.

It’s also holding up this year’s sanding project; while rain doesn’t delay the process the way cold weather does, it’s hard on the dams when we’re running heavy equipment in heavy rain. This also causes delays on our current bog renovation. The good news: with this much water, we save on fuel costs, since we don’t need to run the pumps.

In the meantime, our team is doing as much indoor work and maintenance as possible! It’s all about flexibility.

Heavy weather – spring 2018

While southern New Jersey hasn’t had a storm that’s been as heavy as other areas in the Northeast, we’ve still received more than our share of rain in the last week, which means our team has had to make some changes to our daily plan to compensate.

“If we get two inches tomorrow we’ll have people working indoors,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann. “It all needs to get done, but we’d like some projects to get done faster. But we can’t control the weather, so we’re making alternative plans depending on how much it hold us up. Up until now I’d say the rain was a good thing for us, but the next 2 to 3 inches I don’t think we need!”

One way it’s slowing us down: the current bog renovation. “We’ve had to switch things around a little because we don’t want to wreck the dams or the bogs we’re renovating,” Bryan says. “We have the Hydremas still plugging away but they’re hauling away less per load.” Bog renovation manager Steve Manning has made changes as necessary, however. “We’re still putting the subsoil in, but we’re holding off on the top sand, which in turn is holding up putting the pipe in and all that,” Steve says. “We can still screen sand in this weather, though, which is good. So in the meantime, we’re moving equipment around as needed, and we’ll probably do some work tomorrow for the canal we’re putting in.”

Our team has also had to make some changes to the fertilizer applications. “We should be doing those right now, but it will wash through soil faster, and the planes can’t fly when it’s overcast anyway,” Bryan says. “So if it clears up in time, the current plan will be to fly on Sunday.”

While some tasks are being held up, there have been some advantages. “We’re still doing a lot of scouting,” says Matt Stiles. “It’s actually been a help; we can walk the bog and see what needs to be fixed much more easily, particularly anywhere the drainage in a bog isn’t quite right.”

Water, as always, is a particular concern, but while we’ve had quite a bit of rain it hasn’t been more than the team can handle. “We’re keeping the reservoirs well below where we normally hold them,” says Matt Giberson. “It’s actually a little easier right now because with the rain and the warmer weather, we haven’t had to run for frost, so we can be a bit more aggressive with reservoirs and canals and just keep a eye on things in case we do get a big rain.” So far the farm has had about 3.2 inches this week, and they’re calling for another 2 to 4 over the next couple of days. Fortunately, Matt says, “It’s been steady but it hasn’t been dramatic. So we’ve just been trying to maintain dams ahead of time, crowning them when we can and fixing any erosion where it comes down really hard. But they’ve been in fairly decent shape; we haven’t really had a downpour so far, just half an inch here, half an inch there. And there hasn’t been any washout on the young beds, which is great.”

It all comes down to flexibility! Farming is all about doing what you have to do when you when it’s time to do it, and our team makes sure to plan for every possible outcome.

March storms

Every year, we post an update about looking forward to spring, and it seems like every year, the first week of spring arrives via snowstorm!

The most recent nor’easter to come through this area left us without power for two days, but had the power not come back today, our team was prepared, thanks to the thunderstorms from June 2015!

Our winter storm prep remains basically the same every year: 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.

That means the Equipment/Facilities team also takes some precautionary measures, making sure those generators are ready to go in case we lose power for an extended amount of time. They also make sure the heat is turned up in any vacant properties onsite, just in case. “We also pack the shop with equipment to work on,” manager Louis Cantafio said last year. “That way, we don’t have to dig it out, or start it in the cold, or fill the shop with melting snow. We go over all the loaders, make sure they’re ready to go before the operators bring them home.” Then, once the storm hits “we have to get all the egresses open and get rid of snow everywhere we need to store incoming deliveries.”

Fortunately, the power outage didn’t last too long this time, and the snow seems to be melting quickly! Could this end of this long winter finally be in sight?

Preparing for spring 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

February spring

February has definitely been an interesting month for Pine Island. In addition to celebrating a spectacular Super Bowl outcome (the Eagles won the Super Bowl, in case you hadn’t heard) there’s been a patch of unseasonably warm weather.

“Warm weather in February doesn’t affect our crop too much,” says Matt Giberson. “We’re seeing some trees budding, though, and it’s really having an effect on the wildlife. Louis opened all the doors in the shop the other morning, and as Mike, Steve, Jeremy, & I were going over the plan for the day, a big frog hopped in and headed over to us like he owned the place.” Steve apparently sent him on his way, but as of this morning, the frog has yet to send in a completed job application.

In addition to the frogs, there have also been several turtles on the move; they might even get to where they’re going by the time spring actually arrives. And while many birds have become more active, we haven’t seen much of our eagles lately.

(We have, however, been keeping up on our Eagles. Who won the Super Bowl, by the way.)

A warm week with little to no wind has also been a great opportunity for our team to do some prescribed burning, which Mike Haines helped with for the first time and found really interesting. “It’s been kind of wet, but it hasn’t rained for a little while and Matt said that conditions were good,” Mike says. “We started burning some pieces that have been done on a consistent basis so it wouldn’t be too intense, which is a good chance to learn. The fire can get big if it hasn’t been done for a while. We started roadside over by the Turf reservoir and then burned a couple of places in the woods by Weymouth and Bluetta.” While some of this is to control the amount of fuel on the ground in case of wildfire, we also do this kill the briars in this particular section, as they can get into the bogs and carry fairy ring. (Fairy ring is not to be confused with actual jewelry, such as a Super Bowl ring, for example. It’s tough to fight–much like the Eagles defense–and doesn’t always have a happy ending…much like the Dallas post-season for the last twenty years or so.)

It’s already started to cool down considerably, but our team remains on track to finish sanding by March 9th!

And, of course, hope springs eternal that our Phillies might finish the upcoming season over .500.

Storm water management

While the nor’easter that blew through this area over the weekend had nowhere near the effect that previous storms have, our team nonetheless had some work to do! Mike Haines and Jeremy Fenstermaker kept busy through the weekend and into Monday and Tuesday, as well.

“So far we’ve been flooding with only a small amount of water, since it’s been so dry for so long,” Mike says. “At the same time, though, getting this storm meant we had to be careful because we had a lot more water then we had before, and if you’re not careful you could have water coming over the dams. Matt Giberson saw it getting dangerously high at Young Upper, for example, so he and Matt Stiles worked on lowering the water there. I don’t know if we really prepared, per se, but were just vigilant during the whole time it was raining: riding around during the day seeing if the water was getting too high and adjusting accordingly, letting water into swamps and not into bogs. We also had to monitor Sim Place overnight; wind was blowing straight into gates at Big Reservoir, knocking boards off, and then cedar trees would come into the gates and knock boards off that way. So Jeremy tacked those boards at the top, which we don’t like to do. . .but it was necessary. It requires some extra work and attention but it was good in the end because it topped everything off and now the water is back at the level it was at last winter.

“Now we’re at our targets and have to let water go,” Jeremy says. “We got about 2.5, 3 inches of rain across the farm, but it’s the wind that really messes you up. Water might be at the right level but the wind gets some wave action going and it eats away at the dams, especially where you don’t have any erosion control. At the young bogs, we keep the water high to keep plants from getting pulled out if there’s ice or whatever, but those dams get torn up because erosion control such as grass growing on the side of dams, et cetera, just isn’t there yet.”

“It’s all about being vigilant,” he says. “We didn’t have that much water, but you’re reluctant to let it go in prep for a storm. Once you know what’s happening, then you can start getting rid of it and be extra vigilant to keep it from pushing it into the bog and overrunning dams.” Mike agrees: “You have to always be aware of what’s going on everywhere so you know what can go wrong in every instance.”

“Every bog is a learning experience because it’s situational,” says Jeremy. “Not everything is always set up the same way, so you can learn from it and find better and safer ways to set things up. This one I think we handled pretty well. It’s upsetting to see some of the dams in the shape they’re in but there’s not much you can do about it.” Mike adds: “Yeah, that’ll be a job for the spring when the water comes off.”

So while our team continues to monitor current conditions, we’re also constantly working on ways to establish erosion control on the dams!

Heat stress

Cranberries need about an inch of water each week during the growing season (either via rain or irrigation), preferably early in the morning or at night, in order to avoid losing it to evaporation. We irrigate for two reasons: first, to keep the vines healthy and productive, and second, to protect them from the heat. Keeping them cool helps protect the bloom, the fruit, and the vines themselves. Once the fruit is formed, it’s important to keep them from what we term “scalding”. Scald occurs when the temperature is high but the dew point (humidity) is low; as Dr. Peter Oudemans likes to say, “When people are comfortable, the cranberries are in trouble.”

When humidity is low, the applied water will readily evaporate and cool the fruit. During the day, if temperatures get up to around 95 degrees, we will turn on the irrigation in order to cool the bog down to the 80s. Historically, our team would run the pumps for about an hour or two, depending on variables such as wind, temperature, and humidity. We are also using some new technology to help fine-tune the process.

With the use of thermal imaging cameras, our team has been able to use our irrigation systems much more efficiently when cooling down the fruit. “With the camera, we can get a better indication of when we should run the water,” says New Production Manager Mike Haines. “Historically, when the temperature got high enough, we would just turn on the sprinklers and let them run for a while. But it wasn’t always necessary. We could get a day that was only in the high 80s but really dry, which means the fruit’s going to get super hot and break down. That can lead to rot. Conversely, it could be 95 out, but the humidity might be high enough to keep fruit cool. Using a thermal camera is helping us pinpoint temperatures precisely so we run the pumps when we need to rather than guessing.” This is important, because too much moisture can cause conditions that are welcoming to fungi such as phytophthora, which causes root rot. Vines shouldn’t be damp all the time; it’s a balancing act to keep the fruit at optimum growth conditions while avoiding oversaturation. The key to walking the tightrope is constant evaluation and always being aware of bog conditions!

Humidity

“It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.”

It may be a cliché, but it’s sadly all too true: thanks to New Jersey’s high humidity, the most serious disease problem faced by area cranberry growers is fruit rot. Though the fungi known to cause fruit rot appear wherever cranberries are grown, the degree of infection is greatly affected by weather conditions. Most field rot symptoms occur with high summer temperatures and moisture, per Dr. Peter Oudemans of the Rutgers Cooperative Extension.

We talked last week about how the weather has not been greatly beneficial for pollination; the same also applies to rot conditions. June 2013 has been the wettest June in recorded history in New Jersey, with an average rainfall for the month at 9.2 inches. According to PIICM manager Cristina Tassone, Pine Island received an average rainfall of eight inches both on the home farm and Sim Place. “In New Jersey, you have to have a fruit rot fungicide program,” she says. “And with weather conditions like this, we have to make sure our timing of the applications is right.” Fortunately, the newly installed underdrain is working very well to keep our bogs drained and as dry as possible, but we still need to use a treatment program. Our target percentage for rot is less than 3%; for anything higher than that, we are penalized by Ocean Spray. High rot numbers during the harvest hurts our efficiency. It slows down our packing house team, which in turn slows down the Ocean Spray receiving station.

Cristina checking vines at Otter

Pine Island is constantly evaluating the fungicide program in order to make the best decisions from season to season. We don’t have hard numbers on rot percentage until after a bog is harvested, but every year at the end of harvest we always revisit and see if we need to adjust our program. We have two basic programs: standard and intensive. The standard is three to four applications. “The first two are the most important,” Cristina says. “We have to cover as many of the flowers as we can. Our team is constantly scouting until we get to about twenty percent scattered bloom, when the first application will go on, and then the next is done when we’re at full bloom. The first two are where you’re going to live or die.”

“Sad to say, this year we have ‘perfect’ rot conditions,” she says. “In a normal year, we can switch to the standard program from the more intensive program, but one year or one season can’t determine that. It’s all about timing; we do what we have to do when it’s time to do it. If it’s not done? You can’t turn that back.”