Sprayer maker expands into Northwest

Photo of Air-O-Fan Air-O-Fan sprayers, including the GB-36R 500, are sold through over 30 dealerships in the U.S., Canada and Australia. They range in capacity from 100 to 1,000 gallons.

Air-O-Fan offers range of products for the Western orchard grower

By JOHN SCHMITZ

For the Capital Press

They make the world's largest agricultural sprayer, but at the Northwest Ag Show Air-O-Fan Products will be showcasing smaller machines engineered mainly for Northwest orchard and berry crops.

Air-O-Fan of Reedley, Calif., traces its beginnings to the mid-1940s. After serving as an Air-O-Fan dealer for several years, the company was purchased in 1975 by dealership owner Byre Davis. The Davis family also took over manufacturing at that time.

Air-O-Fan sprayers, which range in capacity from 100 to 1,000 gallons and are made mostly of stainless steel, are sold through over 30 dealerships nationwide. The company is also represented in Australia and Canada.

While nut growers of all types around the country have been good customers for Air-O-Fan Products, sales manager Shannon McDonald is out to expand the company's presence in the Northwest.

"We're really hitting it hard in the Northwest," McDonald said.

McDonald, who joined the company 20 years ago, said he sold several units to hazelnut growers in Oregon in 2009.

One feature Air-O-Fan sprayers are known for is their adjustable air vane technology, McDonald said.

With AVT, applicators are able to control air and water streams to adjust the spray pattern to coincide with the shape of the tree being sprayed. This eliminates wasteful sprays in open spaces in the tree row.

"You can totally adjust (the sprayer) so that everything hits the tree," McDonald said. AVT technology also enables applicators to better control spray drift. "That makes it huge in the marketplace because a lot of other (sprayers) don't have that at all."

Another Air-O-Fan selling point is that the sprayers are easy to maintain. "Everything's out in the open. It's very user-friendly."

For crops such as blueberries, Air-O-Fan builds a sprayer with a V tower that directs sprays horizontally across rows or every other row. "Everybody today wants to get across their fields faster and use less material," McDonald said. "Our machines are capable of getting down to 25 to 30 gallons to the acre."

Instead of wrapping around rows with costly booms that can be a maintenance nightmare, Air-O-Fan sprayers do this with a "invisible" boom and a adjustable air vane that allows the canopy on any crop to be manipulated so the lowest volume sprays can be effective.

Air-O-Fan also manufactures herbicide booms that can be attached to its sprayers for use in row crops.

Yet another Air-O-Fan, this one an option, is a chemical-saving Bravo-140 sensing system used in young orchards that rations sprays so only the trees are covered. Input savings with the device average 25 percent, McDonald said.

In the Northwest there are Air-O-Fan dealerships in McMinnville and Hood River, Ore., Wenatchee, Wash., and Gooding, Idaho. There are 17 dealers in California.

Air-O-Fan sprayers, which are available in engine-driven and PTO-driven models, range in price from $4,800 for the smaller units to $72,000 for the 1,000-gallon, two-fan sprayer used on 120-foot-tall Georgia and Texas pecan trees.

During a typical year, Air-O-Fan will make 250 to 350 sprayers. McDonald said that the company has not been hit all that hard by the soft economy that has impacted others in the ag sector more.

"We've seen about a 10 percent downturn," he said. "The nut (crops) have done very well. We had a phenomenal year in 2008."

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