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Q & A: Joe Michaels, Great Plains President

Joe Michaels has been president of Great Plains for less than a year, but he’s been in the agriculture industry more than 37 years. He’s determined to meet farmers’ needs with “creativity and courage” despite challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic.

In March, the Department of Homeland Security deemed agriculture equipment manufacturing an essential business. With a few adjustments, Great Plains has remained open. “We have a special responsibility to the nation to help support and supply the food chain, our dealers, and their farmer customers out there,” Michaels says.

Q: How has Great Plains been impacted by COVID-19?

A: We really started to hear about this right before the beginning of the year. Our first wave of reality was in our supply chain, and we’ve monitored it very closely. As a longtime company with some very close relationships, we’ve had a really good experience with getting things here on time. We’ve taken extra precautions to put in some safety stock in the supply chain.

We have a vertically integrated manufacturing system, so we can control quality and cost. That allows us to have a really good handle on our ability to continue to supply parts and whole goods into the market.

Q: Has Great Plains changed its production to adapt to COVID-19 realities?

A: In the last 60 days as the situation has developed, we have reorganized our production facilities to practice social distancing and increase cleaning and disinfecting. In addition to that, we’ve deployed a system of wellness checks and the use of face masks on a routine basis within our facilities throughout Kansas.

Production has not changed a great deal. We have rebalanced lines to different seasonalities. We enjoy a diverse manufacturing base, which means many different products that are sold throughout the year. We’ve rebalanced things so the seasonal items are the emphasis to keep up with the spring tillage and planting type of equipment. We’ve been able to rebalance the priorities within our facilities, keep up with the needs of customers, and expand social distancing pretty effectively.

Great Plains BD7600 Drill profile
Photo credit: Great Plains

Q: Does this change your production of the new BD7600?

A: The demand is strong, and we’ve been able to keep up.

Q: Planting is underway. How will farmers experience parts and service from Great Plains this spring?

A: Solving problems for customers and supporting dealers is why we’ve been here for 44 years.

Even though we have these great smartphones in our hands, I think none of us really take full advantage of them. We’ve started to see more and more uses of these mobile devices for training, interactive troubleshooting and diagnosis, and parts identification. We’ve increased our phone presence for the dealers so they can contact the subject matter experts directly. We want to make sure the dealers have the support they need.

For a company that prides itself on relationships, social distancing has taken a lot of getting used to. To not shake a person’s hand when you come into a dealership or on the farm site is pretty difficult for our people, but that’s what is required. We’ve taken the next step to hand that person a face mask if we have to work within 6 feet of each other.

The farmers and dealers are all handling this in different ways, and we’ve been very accommodating to meet their needs. The essential infrastructure is very much in place here in Salina and through the different freighting services and our fleet of more than 80 trucks. I’m happy to report things are well in place. I think we will come out of this in better shape in terms of a support methodology for our dealers.

Q: What has Great Plains learned through this crisis and how will it be used to improve the business for farmers?

A: I’ve been reminded that when you have good people, you can handle anything. I think we all take that for granted some days, but when you have good people that keep the core values in mind and that creativity kicks in, we can handle it together.

More tactically, maybe we don’t have to travel out there every time there’s an issue. That doesn’t mean we would reduce our travel, but maybe we can interact faster with our dealers through some of these electronic methodologies. We can expand our use of those to up our game. We’re coming together with some really good ideas and we’re able to try them through these trying times.

In addition, I would say we’re learning some of the best practices in our factories about balancing the lines, making sure that people are being safe, and using efficient practices. Whenever you do a thorough relook at your process in the factory, in the office, in the field, you can’t help but get some additional ideas flowing. We’ve seen that on all three fronts.

Q: It looks like fairs, field shows, and other events where farmers are used to engaging with Great Plains may not happen as they have in the past. How can farmers expect to stay in touch?

A: That is a current challenge that we’re addressing right now. We’re looking at continuing to expand social media and other virtual methods to up our game here. We’re preparing through additional capture of video and imagery, with more extensive use of illustrations and animation.

We’re experimenting with getting some more of our technically minded people in front of a camera. We have a great group of people here with some 30-year-plus veterans and newer members in our engineering group. We’re working to share their deep knowledge and expertise.

We haven’t given up on social gatherings, but they will be quite different.

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