You might not think of a farmer as having much interest in software development, but John Snyder does.
For more than 100 years his family's business, Snyder Livestock Company, has ranched and farmed in Yerington, Nev. Despite his old-fashioned livelihood, Snyder has used his 21st century software development skills to make the business run smoother, more efficiently and more profitably.
Snyder developed a software program using REALbasic to monitor the company's biggest moneymaker – its onion business. The onions, of course, don't stay in Yerington very long after being harvested. They are shipped to Texas, California, Florida, New York, Chicago and Mexico where they are sold in grocery stores and Wal-Marts. All of this requires tracking.
The Snyder family had rented tracking software until John Snyder had a better idea. “I knew I wanted to put the database on a SQL server,” he says. He decided on REALbasic for two reasons: It's available for the Macintosh operating system, his preferred platform, and it's a cross-platform development tool, a necessity because the company's accounting department uses Windows.
Snyder wrote an application he dubbed ShipIt! that tracks onion inventory and shipping as well as produces documents such as manifests, invoices and other reports.
Snyder Livestock ships about 450,000 50-pound bags of onions yearly, and each bag is loaded with a particular size, color and grade. ShipIt! tracks those characteristics, how many of each type go to each customer and at what price. “It produces the invoices for our customers and the manifests that we send with the truckload as it leaves here,” he says. “Our accounting office can bring up that information and export from the onion software into accounting software to keep track of accounts receivable.”
Sometimes the onions have to be shipped with PLU (price lookup) stickers, so Snyder can use ShipIt! to produce a daily report to give to his staff to tell them what kind of sticker to put on particular kinds of onions.
ShipIt! also tracks how onions are packaged. Wal-Mart-bound onions, for example, are shipped in boxes called “reusable plastic containers,” or RPCs. “We have to track how many RPCs we get in, and each time we ship product we have to keep track of where they go, the billing number and so on,” he explains. “On a weekly basis we send reports to the company from which we rent the RPCs.”
Snyder uses another program he wrote using REALbasic to work out the pay structure for the 150 seasonal farm workers who come up from Mexico to harvest the onions. H-2A regulations require Snyder Livestock to pay them a minimum hourly rate, “but to incentivize we like to pay by the piece,” he says. The company devised a complicated payroll system based on the number and weight of bags picked along with the amount of dirt clods, trash and bad onions per bag. “We put this into a REALbasic program that figures out the pay rate. That has worked really well in saving hours and hours of work.”
The software programs have been so successful that Snyder is thinking of other applications where he could use REALbasic.
One is to integrate the onion sorting process with ShipIt!. After harvesting, the onions are brought into the packing shed where they go through an optical sorter that determines their size and color and sorts them accordingly. Software that came with the sorter produces a corresponding report. “I will be looking at interfacing the sorting software with my software so we can do a better job,” Snyder says. “Different batches of onions tend to have different characteristics -- some have a lot of jumbos, some a lot of mediums. So if we have a lot of orders for mediums I'll be able to pack and ship them first.”
Although onions are Snyder Livestock Company's primary product, the company maintains a sizeable livestock business. It operates a feedlot where cattle owners board their bulls and cows until they are ready to be bred. The current feedlot software, which tracks each animal's feed consumption and activity level, “is very antiquated,” Snyder says, so he's started to create a new program in REALbasic.
Snyder Livestock also runs “Bulls for the 21st Century,” an auction of bulls that first go through a rigorous 120-day evaluation period. Bulls are tested for weight gain, EPD (expected progeny differences) and lineage ranking, semen testing, ultrasound testing, and physical appearance ranking. “All of this information is put together for a ranking. The higher the ranking the more money they can get,” Snyder says. The ranking is currently determined using a program he wrote in FileMaker. “But we want to be able to give our customers the option to bid online, so we are looking at converting it to REALbasic and SQL server.”
Although he grew up in rural Nevada about 80 miles from Reno, Snyder says he always had an interest in computers “from the very first Apple IIs.” He left the farm to go to college where he studied agricultural engineering, always with the intention of returning to Snyder Livestock. When he got back to Yerington he got his first taste of SQL while working for an irrigation district that used an Rbase-driven program to track water users.
Today Snyder is considering converting from the open-source version of SQL server he uses to REAL SQL Server. But he already relies on REAL SQL Server to support his hobby. “My sons convinced me to try fantasy football with them. Parts were tedious, and I wrote a program to deal with them.” The hobby could become a business, too, he says, when he puts “Fantasy Draftmeister” into commercial production for the upcoming football season.
“I'm a real fan of REALbasic,” Snyder says. “Most of my computing has been through the school of hard knocks, and anything that makes it easier is a plus. Its limitation is mostly my own limitations.”
Dana Mason is marketing manager of REAL Software Inc.