Founded more than 100 years ago, Sacia Orchards is Wisconsin’s oldest and second largest apple orchard. A family-owned business, Sacia Orchards has been passed down through generations, each committed to growing the best apples in the most sustainable and efficient ways. In fact, previous owner Robert Sacia often commented that “growing apples is a survival of the fittest-- you have to keep up with new varieties, methods, and equipment.” And that’s the way the business is run to this day.
Scott Kee is VP of Operations at Sacia Orchards, and part of his job is making sure the company continues to cultivate current owner Sacia Morris's vision (granddaughter of the original owner, Fred Sacia). Scott’s responsibility is to ensure that all of the processes on the orchard are performed via the most effective and cutting-edge methods. And because there’s much more to growing apples than just planting and watering, Scott’s job isn’t an easy one.
Sacia Orchards comprises four different apple orchards, with three that are around 40 acres and the fourth 80 acres. Throughout the year, field workers spray the orchards with a precise combination of fertilizer and pesticides. The staff is continuously refining the spray recipes, and uses Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques and incorporates weekly IPM findings to continually reduce their reliance on insecticides and pesticides. Workers keep diligent spray schedules to further hone their methods.
“Your spray recipe isn’t just the nutrients and chemicals you’re putting in, but also flow rates of your air blast sprayers, and how many gallons per acre you’re putting out as well. That stuff is all critical, along with the weather, the wind, how sunny it is-- these things are critical to look back on,” says Scott.
Not only are these fine details integral to the success of the growing operation-- and extremely difficult to manage on pen and paper or spreadsheets-- but during the spray process workers are maneuvering tractors with 5,000 lb spray tanks attached. They can’t afford to divert their attention to keeping track of materials for data collection.
In addition to tracking operations to improve upon growing techniques, Sacia Orchards must also be completely compliant with government regulations in order to be able to sell their apples to retailers. Government agencies require a critical level of detail when it comes to reporting, labeling, manufacturing practice, recordkeeping, inspections, and more within the food service industry. Sacia Orchards is required to provide all of this information to be compliant, and this requires careful data management.
It’s not a straightforward task.
As Scott remarks, “You’re in a tractor all day. It’s not a vacation-- you’re really having to be very aware of your surroundings. You’re pretty fried when you get done with a day of spraying. It’s the last thing on your mind when you’re done to sit down and write all this stuff down.”
Scott began looking for ways to improve sprayer safety as well as manage the spray schedules, recipes, and government compliance data. Before discovering AppSheet, the Sacia team was simply managing all of this information with Google Sheets. But when Scott looked in the Google Sheets add-on store, he ran across AppSheet and created his first app.
The app allows sprayers to input via mobile devices the important data Sacia Orchards needs to continue to refine and recalibrate their recipes and methods-- without detracting their attention from the safety precautions needed to operate the 5,000+ lb machinery. It features a user-friendly form that contains various data points relating to the spray process. Workers record information about fertilizer, fungicide, insecticide, herbicide; and at the end have the ability to take a photo of the orchard in question.*
During one year of spraying, Scott estimates that staff members were spending about a week’s worth of time on data management and entry. The app he built has reduced this time to zero. Information is inputted and received instantly. And the sprayers can operate tractors with few distractions.
“The app saves us between 30 and 40 hours of manual data entry each year. All the information is documented and ready to go, versus having to say, ‘What did I do today?’”