SALINA, Kan. – Since its inception on April 1, 1976, Great Plains Mfg. has evolved from modest beginnings to become one of the largest family-owned farm equipment manufacturers in the U.S.
Forty years ago, Great Plains founder Roy Applequist set out to develop a new grain drill for the Central Plains. After months of interviewing area farmers about their grain drill needs, Applequist responded with a 30-foot folding press drill. The new unit offered high capacity, excellent field flexibility, and could be folded quickly for road transport, with boxes full of seed.
Applequist aptly named the new drill, and subsequent company, Great Plains.
For the first 2.5 years, Great Plains operated out of a small, 6,407 square-foot shop in Salina, Kan. In 1979, operations were moved to a vacated school building in Assaria, Kan., where the spirit of innovation led to continued growth.
Throughout the 1980s, Great Plains introduced several innovative concepts to the ag industry, including individual openers with depth control and highly-effective no-till planting equipment. To keep pace with customer demand, larger manufacturing space was leased in Salina, and Great Plains Trucking was launched in 1983 to haul equipment across the country.
To diversify its product line, Great Plains launched the Land Pride division in 1986, introducing dirt-working, turf-maintenance and landscaping equipment.
The Great Plains Acceptance Corp. was founded in 1991 to help dealers market Great Plains products through low-rate financing. As business and staff grew, company headquarters were relocated to Salina in 1995, where they remain today.
In 2000, Great Plains entered the tillage market with the acquisition of Kent Mfg. of Tipton, Kan. Great Plains later purchased England-based tillage company Simba International in 2010.
Today, Great Plains Mfg. encompasses 5 divisions: Great Plains Ag Division, Great Plains International, Land Pride, Great Plains Acceptance Corp. and Great Plains Trucking. With a continued focus on innovation and quality, Great Plains employs over 1,400 people and has plants in 8 Kansas communities plus Sleaford, England. Altogether, Great Plains operates approximately 1.7 million square feet of factory and office space.
To commemorate the 40th anniversary, Great Plains employees Jeff Hlad and Luke Schoenecker were commissioned to restore the company’s very first 30-foot folding press drill. Hlad is the grandson of Great Plains’ first employee, Bob Hlad, who worked with Applequist to construct the first drill in 1976. With the help of old photos and manuals, the pair worked by hand to build and replace missing parts, disassemble the drill for painting, and apply new decals, replicated from the originals. The project was completed in December 2015 and was on display at the company’s annual Christmas party.