Warren and Phyllis Sturgeon, their two sons, Tony and Butch, and their grandson, Tyson, operate Farmers Spraying, a crop-dusting outfit that provides service to farmers across southcentral Kansas.
If there is such a thing as a crop-dusting gene it is alive and well in the Sturgeon family where three generations comprise Farmers Spraying Services, Inc. The agricultural enterprise plays a vital role in the success of regional farmers and ranchers in Kiowa, Pratt and Stafford counties.
The family patriarch is 77-year-old Warren, who with wife Phyllis, founded the crop-dusting service in 1976, after returning from a seven-year stint in Texas where Warren flew for Aaron Cantrell Aerial Spraying.
“That experience energized my love for the business,” he said.
At the time of the move to Texas, their family included two preschool sons Tony and Frank (Butch). They are now the second of
the three generations manning the business. Holding his own as the third generation family member is grandson Tyson, almost 30 and itching to start flying himself.
According to Warren, the family’s return to Kansas was motivated by a desire to be closer to ex- tended family.
Warren grew up in the rural Greensburg area and Phyllis grew up in the Sun City area.
When he and Phyllis and the boys returned from Texas, Warren said, he wanted to continue crop dusting.
“We made the decision to go out on our own,” he said. “We managed to get a plane and flew circuit for two years, including a sea- son in Canada.”
Things seemed to take off from there.
Warren said Sturgeon family life revolved around the business. Tony and
Butch soaked it all up and were smitten by everything the business encompassed.
“Phyllis is the brains of the operation,” Warren said. “She takes care of the books, serves as a flagman on the ground crew and still cooks supper for the
family. She has been handling those responsibilities from Day 1.”
Currently, Farmers Spraying Service has bases at both the Haviland Airport and Pratt Airport. Tony flies out of the Haviland Airport and John Bunn is pilot out of the Pratt Airport.
The handle for the plane assigned to Haviland is Air Tractor 402, while the plane assigned to Pratt is called Air Tractor 502.
Crop-dusting season in Kansas generally runs from April to November, Warren said, but he re- calls years when it started as early as February.
And, unlike commercial planes, when it comes to crop dusting the question is not how high can you go.
“It’s how low can you go,” Warren said.
Pilot Tony has flown as low as a few feet above crops he is spraying. Though there may have been some difficult moments, the pilot’s main objective is always to bring his plane back to the hangar in one piece, Warren said.
“We know what needs to be done and we get it done,” Sturgeon said.
Tyson, who graduated from Greensburg High School in 2007, has a goal of starting pilot training. For now, he mixes chemicals and handles a multitude of other tasks.
Prices of equipment in the past 30 years have skyrocketed, Warren said.
“Our first plane was a Pawnee Piper Spray Plane with a 250 horse-power motor, which carried a price tag of $15,000,” he said. “Today, the company owns two bright yellow Air Tractor planes, which cost $850,000 each.”
Though Warren was grounded five years ago at age 72 after being diagnosed with COPD, he remains active in the business.
“It has given me a lifetime of thrills and satisfaction,” he said.