As Florida and the nation adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic, Florida Grower magazine is recognizing the important role businesses play in serving specialty crop producers in the state. This month, we are featuring Tim Schaal, CEO of Airtec Sprayers, Inc.
Can you provide a little history of the company, where you are located, and what you do today?
SCHAAL: My father Dale Schaal has been a grower from birth. He learned what it took to get from season to season and crop to crop working his family’s farm. After he moved from the farm, he wanted to help growers by providing technologically advanced equipment, and he focused on sprayers. While being a sprayer dealer, he recognized the need for more effective spray coverage than the traditional high-pressure and air blast sprayers were providing growers. He began developing the first air boom sprayer in his garage by utilizing a pressurized air system to carry the spray and began to research and develop his spraying system with several growers in the field. From there, he founded Airtec Sprayers, Inc. in 1992 and was able to scale the technology to include Air Tower and Air Cannon Sprayers. After building a national customer base across a variety of industries, Airtec opened a dedicated manufacturing facility in 2015 in Winter Haven. Today, the business is managed by his two sons, Dan and me.
How has COVID-19 impacted your operations?
SCHAAL: In the manufacturing plant, we implemented enhanced safety protocols so our employees could continue performing their jobs safely while maintaining social distancing where possible. The various state-issued travel restrictions impacted our ability to visit with customers throughout the U.S. and attend trade shows. Those trade shows were either cancelled or turned virtual, which prompted us to develop new ways to market our products, including launching an updated website.
What feedback are you hearing from your grower customers as it relates to COVID-19 heading into the coming season?
SCHAAL: Our nursery customers experienced an increase in sales in several regions across the U.S. during the quarantine period, with many homeowners updating their landscaping as they spent more time at home. After the initial period of uncertainty, our fruit and vegetable customers have continued their normal farming schedules while implementing changes in their operations to keep their workers safe.
How does the Airtec sprayer technology work?
SCHAAL: Airtec utilizes air pressure rather than water pressure to carry the spray particles to the targeted area. The pressurized air is then released toward the targeted area through our specially designed air nozzles, while spray material is injected inside using a traditional spray tip calibrated at a high-, medium-, or low-volume rate of spray. The spray particles penetrate inside the plant canopy, maximizing coverage while minimizing drift. The grower can use the precise amount of chemical or organic spray products needed without having to account for spray material drifting off the targeted area and into the air.
People often associate your sprayers with citrus. What are some of the other specialty crops that Airtec services?
SCHAAL: Airtec’s sprayers are used in conventional and organic farms across several industries including nurseries, apples, blueberries, strawberries, onions, carrots, watermelon, peppers, leafy greens, and other varieties of fresh produce. In addition to saving money by not wasting chemicals, the biggest benefit to spraying with an Airtec sprayer is improved crop yields. Improved spray coverage increases the effectiveness of the products being applied, which leads to less crop damage from pests and diseases.
Do you have any new sprayers or products to talk about?
SCHAAL: For our Citrus Sprayer Model, we have improved the folding tower with a heavy-duty folding cylinder that will go up to 16 feet, allowing for better coverage in the tops of citrus trees. We also engineered a heavy-duty, low-maintenance turning hitch allowing for easy turning into and out of ditches without the maintenance requirements of turning hitches on other air blast sprayers. For our air boom sprayers, we redesigned our gantry lifting system to provide a stable operation in the field by using a scissor-style lifting design. We can custom build our sprayers to meet specific needs, which allows us to continually evaluate our designs and make new improvements.
Airtec Sprayers Keeps the Pressure on During Pandemic