Software Streamlines Onion Tracking at Family Operation

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. 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 Xojo to monitor the company's biggest moneymaker on 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.

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," Snyder said. "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 his staff to tell them waht 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 explained. "On a weekly basis, we send reports to the company from which we rent the RPCs."

Snyder wrote another program 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 said. 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 Xojo app that figures out the pay rate. That has worked really well in saving hours and hours of work," he said.

The software programs have been so successful that Snyder is thinking of other applications.

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 said. "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 he grew up in rural Nevada about 80 miles from Reno, Snyder said 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.

His love of computers spills into his hobbies, too.

"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.