Dedication to cranberry bogs wins man state honor

Posted: July 16, 2012

William S. Haines Jr. was making his daily rounds at Hog Wallow this week, driving over narrow, dusty roads between the sprawling cranberry bogs and reservoirs.

At an intersection, he pulled over, then walked into a field with two workers and looked down. A parasitic dodder plant was winding through the cranberry vines.

"Left alone, it will multiply and multiply and become a huge mass," Haines said. "We're fanatical about getting rid of it.

"It's like a farmer told me years ago: 'Nothing improves your farm like your feet on it,' and that's true," he said.

Haines, 59, grew up on the farm and knows all 1,300 acres of the bogs south of Chatsworth in Washington Township, Burlington County, where he oversees the largest cranberry operation in New Jersey and one of the top five in the country.

This year, he was named New Jersey's outstanding forest steward by the state Department of Environmental Protection for management of his woodlands on the Wading and Oswego Rivers, leading into the Mullica River.

"There are two reasons why cranberries thrive here: abundant, clean water and acidic soil," said Haines, owner and CEO of the Pine Island Cranberry Co.

Stands of pitch pine, oak, and Atlantic white cedar border 80 miles of roads and a patchwork quilt of bogs and reservoirs. There's a symbiotic relationship between the farm and forest, which is kept healthy by thinning and controlled burns.

"I'm a fourth-generation" grower, said Haines, of Medford. "This is in my blood."

The bogs account for about a tenth of the 14,000-acre farm that Haines' great-grandfather started in 1890. Martin L. Haines, a Union captain during the Civil War, had a home in Vincentown, but kept a house on the farm to be closer to work. William Haines spent part of his boyhood at that house, which still stands.

"My grandmother remembered my great-grandfather sitting on the front porch with his nose in a book," Haines said. "She remembered him putting his big feet up while he read."

Haines and his wife, Nadine, a lawyer, have two sons and four daughters. His oldest son, William "Tug" Haines 3d, 33, is a full-time farm supervisor, and daughter Stefanie Haines, 39, is the operation's web master.

For the Haineses and the state's 34 other cranberry farmers, all in the Pinelands, this is the time to lay a foundation for the fall harvest. Before farm hands wade into flooded bogs, into the swirling masses of red, pink, and yellow berries, the cranberry vines must be weeded, fertilized, and treated for fungus.

New Jersey produces nearly 50 million pounds of the fruit annually, making it the third-largest cranberry-producing state, after Wisconsin and Massachusetts.

The Pine Island Cranberry Co. alone is expected to produce 300,000 100-pound barrels this year, each bringing $60. Cranberry varieties sold include Stevens, Early Black, Ben Lear, Crimson Queen, and DeMoranville.

Haines also has a 205-acre operation in Frutillar, Chile, which sells its berries to Brazil and Europe. He makes four or five trips there a year.

But most of his time is spent at Hog Wallow, in the heart of the Pinelands, far from noisy traffic. He has 31 full-time employees and up to 70 during the harvest.

"I get here every morning at 6:45 a.m. and talk to my managers to find out what the plan is for the day," he said.

Haines walks at least "two bogs a day. You've got to get out there. Sometimes I see where we can do something better."

At a neighboring cranberry farm, Stephen Lee 3d, president of Lee Brothers Inc., has watched Haines' operation and work ethic with admiration.

"He's very intense, hands-on, and knowledgeable about whatever he's going to do," said Lee, 66, of Tabernacle. "He learns about it and does a first-class job."

One effort that caught the attention of state officials was Haines' environmental work.

"He is one of our country's best forest stewards and a leader in forest management," said certified forester Bob Williams. "You can't have great cranberries without great watershed forests."

Though now focused on farming, Haines has served on the board of directors at Ocean Spray, as mayor of Washington Township, and on the Burlington County Board of Chosen Freeholders, where he helped expand the county's Farmland and Open Space Preservation programs.

He also helped create a Parks Department, which has preserved more than 1,000 acres and developed six parks in the county.

"My favorite time of the year is the harvest" in September, October, and early November, Haines said.

"It's a great feeling to watch the fruit get on the truck," he said. "You can see what you've accomplished."

Haines' sister, Holly Haines, the company's chief financial officer, likes "the whole cycle. . . . Winter, spring, summer, and fall are all different," she said. "But the fall is most exciting because you get to see what all your hard work produced."

Outside the immaculate Victorian house where the company has offices, William Haines walked into a spongy bog and he pointed out a fungus called a fairy ring.

"This is a bad place to have it because it aggravates me whenever I see it," he said.

The bog areas have names, such as Caley Bog, Red Road, Deep Run, Black Rock, Telephone Line, Bishop's Mile, and High Bridge.

At Telephone Line, one of the oldest planted by Martin Haines, the staff keeps an eye out for dodder while checking the health of the plants.

"You look at the growth of the berry and color of the leaf underneath," said Cristina Tassone, a crop manager at the farm. "It tells you if it lacks nutrition and helps you determine how much nitrogen is needed."

Tassone and general manager Fred Torres found a parasite. "You have to clip out [dodder] whenever we see it," said Torres, who has worked at the farm for 42 years.

Today, the cranberries are obscured in rectangular fields of leafy vines where the fruit will slowly change from light hues to blush. Deep reds will appear in September.

At harvest, the bogs will be flooded with water pumped from reservoirs and wells. A mechanical harvester will crawl across the bog like an eggbeater, knocking the berries off the vines.

The fruit will float to the surface, then be pushed with booms toward a conveyor belt that will deposit it in a storage bin.

It will be trucked to the farm's cleaning facility, then to an Ocean Spray receiving station in Chatsworth. Ocean Spray plans to close its processing plant in Bordentown next year and move to a Lehigh Valley, Pa., facility in 2014. The move will not impact local growers.

Haines heeds the lessons of those that came before, he says, especially his father who died at age 85 in 2007.

"My father used to say, 'The key is water,' " Haines recalled. " 'Before you make any decision, ask, "Where does the water come from and where do you want it to go?" '

"My father never really retired," he said. "I want to back off sometime and hope one of my children will take over."


Contact staff writer Edward Colimore at 856-779-3833 or ecolimore@phillynews.com.

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