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Sprinklers no longer take a beating

Installing concrete pads and removable heads resolves a cranberry bog bother during harvest time.

By Judie Steeves W

hen he added it all up, Delta’s Clarence DeBoer found that 40,000 square feet of cranberry bog had been lost during harvest because sprinkler heads got

in the way of the beaters.

So, last year small concrete pads were put under each sprinkler. Heads and risers were installed that can be unscrewed and removed during harvest so the beaters can just go to it without damaging risers or having to try and swerve around them.

To remove them all, a boat is used to go around once the field is flooded, so the heads can just be piled in the boat. To re-install, the irrigation is run to flush out the leaves and bits after harvest, and that allows each one to be located by seeing where water is spurting up in the bog. Then workers go around and replace the risers after harvest is over. It was a big job converting, DeBoer admits, and there is a cost to setting up removable sprinklers, but it’s worthwhile, he figures.

Farmers are always innovating, but this is the kind of innovative thinking that can make the difference between a profit and a loss.

The DeBoer operation also maintains a nursery on-farm, with new cranberry plants ready and waiting to replace groups of plants lost to girdler or something else. When they laid out their cranberry bogs they centralized the controls for a group of fields on an island, with big pipes running from the reservoirs under the access roads and into the pumphouse where all the controls are. That way, the valves for all the fields are inside the pumphouse which is not suspended above a bog. Everything is all tied together so that if one pump goes down, everything can be transferred to another. Nutrients and chemicals can also be added centrally. “It’s a real asset to have it all together,” comments DeBoer. Next, he’d like to add a genset to take over in instances where the power is out.

Clarence and his brother Mike bought out their father’s 80- acre dairy farm when they were in their late teens and early 20s in 1986 and they still run it, across the road from the cranberry fields.

They had to borrow the money, but five or six years later decided they needed a land base for dairy pasture land.


Sprinklers now have a much greater survival rate in Clarence DeBoer’s cranberry operation.

There were 160 acres adjacent owned by a Panamanian investment company and that land hadn’t been farmed in years, so they bought it.

After farming it for a few years, the DeBoers found some was low and muddy, so they thought they’d diversify. They planted some cranberries there.

That first effort turned into a mudhole when waterfowl got into it, going after the weed seeds—and weeds were a problem.

Fellow cranberry growers Darshan Banns and Bob Hopcott were growing cranberries on sawdust, so the DeBoers replanted within a year using sawdust rather than peat. All their cranberries are Stephens, with the first planted in 1998. There have been no new fields planted in the past three or four years.

However, they are preparing the ground for a new field this year and are considering planting Crimson Queen, which has a higher yield.

So far, they have 62 acres in cranberries, and are looking at a total of 100 acres.

Clarence admits there was a steep learning curve moving into cranberries from dairy, even though it’s all farming. At first they worked using equipment belonging to friends in the industry, trying both walk-behind beaters and ride-on beaters. He feels the soils make a difference to which is better suited.

There’s less compaction with the walk-behind style, so he has had four built for the farm now. The cranberry harvest fits well with the dairy side of things because all the equipment from dairy has been cleaned and put away by the time the cranberry harvest begins in fall. As they waded into the cranberry industry, DeBoer says they found fellow growers were really helpful. “Everyone shared their expertise—especially the May family.”

British Columbia Berry Grower • Fall 2012 11

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