Jan 19, 2016
New Jersey farm still growing cranberries 125 years later

It was 1890 when Martin L. Haines first began harvesting his cranberry bogs in Hogwallow, New Jersey. Over the last 125 years, five generations of growers have helped the family farm (called Haines & Haines) transform into Pine Island Cranberry Co., the largest producer of berries in the state.

Over that time, the farm’s cranberry acreage has increased from approximately 50 acres to more than 1,400 acres, and it has become one of the top cranberry producers in the world, including holding a successful affiliation with an operation in Chile.

“My great-grandfather started taking cranberries out of the wild and then started clearing ground and planting bogs, and when he passed away in 1905, he left it to two of his children, who ran the business for the next 35 years,” said Bill Haines Jr., current owner and CEO of Pine Island Cranberry Co. “That’s when my dad began managing the operation. I grew up on the farm, working summers. In 1988, I formed Pine Island Cranberry Company. In 2007, we merged Haines & Haines and Pine Island into one company.”

The Haines’ farm is located within the boundaries of the New Jersey Pinelands, which are characterized by coarse, sandy soils with high iron content and low pH – ideal for the native cranberries that grow there.

“The key to success in the cranberry business is to have an adequate supply of clean water, which we have in abundance here in the New Jersey Pinelands,” he said.

On average, Pine Island produces about 30 million pounds of cranberries per year, which comes out to approximately 243 barrels of cranberries per acre.

“To be successful in this business, you must have a willingness to change, to do things differently and always be looking for continuous improvement. If someone in Wisconsin or Massachusetts or Quebec is doing something different and it’s better, you must be willing to try that,” Haines said. “The second thing is attention to detail. We are a large operation, but we’re fanatical about paying attention to details.”

While the Haines family has worked hard to keep the farm strong, there have been challenges along the way.

“The biggest challenge is that we’re about as far South as you can be in North America to grow cranberries successfully, and we have a lot more disease pressure – fruit rot especially – than they do in Wisconsin or Quebec,” Haines said. “Ferry ring is another disease we are working on controlling.”

Taking charge

Haines graduated from Rutgers University in 1975 with a degree in ag economics, then joined the farm full-time. He has served on the board of directors at Ocean Spray, was the mayor of Washington Township and a member of the Burlington County Board of Chosen Freeholders, where he was instrumental in the expansion of the county’s Farmland and Open Space Preservation programs.

Since taking over, Haines has changed the farming methods from applying sand heavily from a mini railroad to equipment that looks like a dune buggy to utilizing something a neighbor invented, which is operating on the water with barges.

“In 1975, we were the first cranberry farm in New Jersey to use solid-set irrigation, and started installing it literally on my last day of school,” he said. “In 1990, we were not satisfied with the consistency of our crop and we worked with a professor (Joan Davenport) – who then worked with Ocean Spray – who totally changed the way we did fertilizer.”

About the same time, the farm instituted a formal IPM program, which has grown through the years to the point where someone specifically
is in charge of integrated crop management, constantly scouting for insects and disease and making fertilizer recommendations at key times.

“Things have recently rapidly evolved, as well,” Haines said. “We started a program where we are replacing all of our Early Black variety, which is close to 700 acres. It’s a quality fruit and they have been reliable, but we’ve been gradually removing them and planting the newer hybrids, mostly developed by Rutgers.”

This idea came about last fall, when Haines visited Wisconsin and walked away with the notion that to stay competitive, the business needed to totally renovate the Early Black beds by 2020.

“It’s important to look at what they do at other areas in the country, and adapt them to the New Jersey environment,” he said.

Other innovations over the years include utilizing lasers to do the leveling, laying out irrigation systems using a satellite and constantly evolving the bog system.

One thing the farm hasn’t turned to yet – but is keeping a close eye on – is Rutgers’ experimentation with drones to take photographs and keep an eye on crops.

Final thoughts

Pine Island Cranberry Co. is a member of the Ocean Spray Cooperative, so its cranberries go all over the world – and a lot of them are used for Craisins.

Looking ahead, Haines hopes to increase production and become more efficient, but most of all he wants the farm to remain a family owned company. With his children Michael and Stefanie in the business, he expects them to continue the tradition of the past 125 years.

Keith Loria, FGN Correspondent

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