SOURCE: Salina Journal

SALINA, Kan. — A dip in commodity prices has pushed Great Plains Mfg. to reduce the number of employees involved in making large equipment for production grain farmers.

The employer, which has plants in two divisions in several small communities in north-central Kansas, counted 1,590 employees at the end of 2014, said Roy Applequist, the company founder and owner.

Because of attrition and some layoffs over the past six months, he said, the roster has been reduced by 60, to 1,530. The reductions affect plants where Great Plains equipment is built — in Salina, Tipton and Ellsworth.

“Due to the slowness of the large agricultural machinery market, hours are being reduced at the Great Plains Division plants,” Applequist said.

The company’s Land Pride division, which makes small implements mostly for compact tractors, has not been affected, he said.

“That business is extremely busy, and we’re having a record year,” Applequist said. He said there has been no change in employment or hours for engineering facilities or management positions. Great Plains Trucking also is doing well, he said.

Grain prices down

Some Great Plains workers have been moved to Land Pride plants in Lucas, Abilene, Kipp and Enterprise. Some production has been moved to Great Plains locations at Salina, Ellsworth and Tipton, Apple-quist said, to utilize available plant capacity.

The culprit is grain markets, Applequist said.

The wheat price at Cargill Ag Horizons, a grain terminal just west of Salina, closed Thursday at $5 a bushel. Just more than a year ago, the price was $7.54.

“That’s why the big ag equipment is slow,” Applequist said. “We’ve weathered the storm pretty well by comparison to other companies in the industry.”

Business is cyclical

He said grain prices and conflicts overseas have softened international markets as well. Great Plains serves a cyclical business, he said, and market volatility is part of the game. A price resurgence would spur farm equipment makers into hiring again, Applequist said.

Local forces are at work to help manufacturing firms, Applequist said, specifically the Salina Area Chamber of Commerce.

“We really appreciate the chamber’s help in getting the welding and truck driver training programs going at Salina Area Technical College,” he said. “It helps a lot of companies.”