A look back at 75 years of High Plains Journal history 

Over the last 75 years, thousands of unique editions of High Plains Journal have been distributed to readers across the High Plains and as HPJ prepares to celebrate this momentous anniversary, it is important to go back to where it all started. 

This jubilee celebration dates back to Jan. 6, 1949, when the first edition of HPJ was printed. The patriarch of this time-honored agriculture publication was Joe Berkely, who after returning from World War II, saw a need for a farm journal that would focus on the High Plains. This Dodge City, Kansas, publication originated in the 1880s and had multiple names and owners prior to when Berkely—and three other owners—took the reins and renamed it High Plains Journal. The publication adopted the tagline of the ‘Farmer’s Paper’ and became a staple at just about every farmhouse. 

In 1959, Pete Armstrong, of McCormick-Armstrong Company Inc. in Wichita, Kansas, purchased controlling interest of the publication, but Berkely continued in his position as publisher until retiring in 1994 and later passed away in 2016 at the age of 97.  

Leadership through the years

After Berkely retired, Duane Ross became publisher. Ross had previously served as associate publisher and worked closely with Berkely for years. He understood his predecessor’s vision for this farm publication and the role it should take on for the High Plains farmer. 

“He always felt HPJ should be a marketplace for people, ideas and products all in a package and we should look for new and unique ways to make that happen,” Ross said. “Whenever we decided to do something new, our first consideration was always in what way does this benefit our reader, the producer? If we couldn’t answer that with a positive, we didn’t do it.” 

When Ross retired in 2007, Tom Taylor became publisher the following year. He had been an employee with HPJ since 1974 and had held multiple positions within the company. Berkely’s concept for HPJ had also made a significant impact on Taylor’s years as publisher.  

Joe Berkely’s vision of HPJ was to be the best and most read ag publication in the High Plains region,” Taylor explained. “Back then it was all about print and localized content—and advertising—for each of our five editions. HPJ had the largest ag classified section of any farm publication in the country, it delivered focused, awardwinning ag reporting in five states and, as Joe would proudly state, HPJ was ‘a thorn in the side of the state ag books.’”  

Taylor said Berkely’s goal was to provide content that readers could identify with, not just canned news that had no impact on a regional reader.  

“What was important to a wheat farmer in Kansas may not have attracted the interest of a corn farmer in eastern Nebraska or Iowa,” he explained. 

Taylor retired in 2015 and longtime-HPJ editor Holly Martin took over as editor and publisher in 2017.  

“One of the things that I always remember readers commenting to me was, ‘High Plains Journal is the Bible of agriculture for the Plains,’” Martin said. “Farmers and ranchers read it faithfully and their week wasn’t complete if they missed an issue.” 

In 2018, Nelson Spencer Jr. purchased HPJ and it is now under a parent media company called Bound Media. In 2021, Zac Stuckey became the publisher. He believes his position at HPJ was meant to be. 

“High Plains Journal was a constant fixture in my household as a child,” Stuckey said. “I remember my grandfather walking toward the mailbox and always returning with his HPJ publication wrapped around his mail. My dad’s copy was marked with circles of items to come back to or pages with dogears to recall articles to reread. I would remove tractor and truck photos hoping to one day have my own. I serve an industry my immediate and extensive family and friends depend on. It is an honor to lead a company with such inherent trust and connections throughout the world.” 

Over the years, HPJ’s coverage area has grown to a 12-state region, including Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arkansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Colorado, South Dakota, Iowa, Montana and Wyoming. Since the 1880s this publication has been headquartered in Dodge City and even after several ownership changes, HPJ’s history in the queen of cow towns continues to this day. The main office is now located at 11142 Kliesen Street in Dodge City.  

Adapting to the times

It is undeniable that the means in which consumers take in news has changed since Berkely printed the first issue of HPJ. Over the years, HPJ has adjusted itself to meet the needs of its readers in multiple formats, which is part of why it can still be found in mailboxes each week.  

In 1995, www.hpj.com joined the World Wide Web, opening the content up to new readers who may have never heard of the publication. This also allowed advertisers to place online ads to be seen by any reader who visited the site. In 2012, HPJ started sending out a digital edition each week for tablets, computers and cellular phones. In recent years, the implementation of e-newsletters allows advertisers to send out custom messaging to their clients along with educational content.   

“The beautiful part is, even though the mechanisms to deliver content have widened, the foundation behind relevant content remains,” Stuckey explained. “Be meaningful and be practical. That is who we will always be. Today, HPJ’s portfolio is more diverse than ever before. Our brand represents varied media and marketing services designed to deliver content how farmers and ranchers desire to consume it. A place where media platforms are designed to work together toward a common purpose.” 

Apart from digital elements, HPJ also crossed into in-person educational events in the early 2010s, which has opened up new doors for the publication. 

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“Being able to bring top-notch speakers face-to-face with our readers was significant,” Martin said. “It was also extremely important to those of us working on the direction of the publication. It allowed us to connect with our readers continually so we could hear what was working for them on their farms and ranches and what wasn’t.” 

These meetings allow farmers and ranchers to meet and learn from experts on specific topics, network with each other and converse with vendors in tradeshow-style booths. Stuckey said so far HPJ has hosted 100 different live-event destinations along with over 35 virtual events.  

“These educational events provide High Plains producers with practical solutions to combat the fluid demands of the agriculture industry along with helping them improve their operation income,” Stuckey said. 

Sustaining a legacy for the future

The pages of HPJ may look different than they did in 1949, but at its foundation it’s still the same publication that farmers and ranchers grew to love and depend on. It’s the mission of HPJ staff to preserve that legacy Berkely created 75 years ago. In some ways, HPJ is similar to a family farm that has been passed on from generation to generation. It changes and adapts over time, but the initial inspiration stays the same. 

“Despite immense change and adaptation since our last celebrated anniversary, High Plains Journal has a stronger foothold and sturdiness than ever,” Stuckey said. “We now reach more than 65,000 farmers and ranchers each week in print, have delivered roughly 50 million digital impressions to producers over the last 18-months alone, and have a growing e-newsletter audience beyond 100,000 recipients.” 

Ross agreed. 

“HPJ continues to find new and innovative ways to provide useful information and help the producer improve their operations and lifestyles,” Ross said. “As long as that continues to be a strong component of HPJ’s mission I believe the reader will place high value on HPJ, that in turn gives HPJ high value to the advertiser and communicators wishing to reach that audience. I would call that a recipe for continued success.”    

Taylor believes HPJ’s value to its reader base will carry it through any of the tough circumstance publications face these days. 

“Even though I’ve been retired for seven years, I still get the publication and admire the steps taken to keep it relevant,” Taylor said. Like any other ag publication in the industry, it too has suffered through the economic and fundamental business changes, the “ups” and “downs” experienced by all. Those challenges turn into opportunities. I think HPJ’s footprint and acceptance still resonates with farmers, ranchers and advertisers alike.” 

For Martin, the key to maintaining a legacy like HPJ’s is keeping the traditions in mind while also looking toward the future. 

“Through the years, HPJ has done a great job of balancing tradition with innovation,” Martin said. “That’s really a reflection of the readership. Subscribers do the same thing on their own operations. They keep in mind the tried and true, but also consider ways to improve what they do.” 

Stuckey is enthusiastic about what the future will hold for this 75-year-old publication. 

“A lot has changed in the last 75 months, let alone 75 years,” he said. “This is a challenge that excites me. Our team embodies perseverance and relates to the needs of farmers and ranchers. This connection will undoubtedly propel us toward the century mark.” 

If you enjoyed this trip down HPJ’s memory lane, be sure to read each issue in 2024, because instead of celebrating the 75th anniversary in one week’s edition, the HPJ staff have decided to give readers a full year of celebration. 

“Each month we will dig in the archives to find and commemorate photos, stories, quotes and more,” Stuckey explained. “Our hope is to republish these editorial assets and share them on varied media to relish the past and what it has meant to all of us. It should be fun to remember our past and how HPJ has been a part of your heritage along with how we will tackle the future together.”  

Lacey Vilhauer can be reached at 620-227-1871 or [email protected].