Machinery Chatter
Jim Patrico Progressive Farmer Senior Editor

Monday 07/23/12

Exit Interview

A lot has changed since 2001 when Dave Everitt first climbed into the executive seat and began driving John Deere's ag division as one of two global presidents. Tractors now know how to steer themselves; global machinery markets have exploded; and Sub-Saharan Africa (Who would have thought it?) has become a target market for farm equipment manufacturers.

Dave Everitt helped move the John Deere ag division into areas of the globe it had not previously served. He also upgraded the company's commitment to high technology. (DTN/The Progressive Farmer photo: Jim Patrico)

Everitt has been a witness to -- and a participant in -- all these developments. He helped usher a dominant farm machinery manufacturer into the 21st century.

Now Everitt, 60, is preparing to retire on October 1. He recently sat down with me to give DTN/The Progressive Farmer an exclusive interview. We looked back on his years at Deere and he projected a little about the changes that await global agriculture.

BEGINNINGS

In 1975 John Deere hired Everitt and his Kansas State University degree in industrial engineering. He had a rapid rise through the company, working in positions that included cost analysis, labor relations, sales and engineering. He ran a factory in Des Moines and worked for nine years at Deere's European headquarters in Mannheim, Germany.

Everitt's last title was: President, Agriculture and Turf Division - North America, Asia, Australia, and Sub-Saharan and South Africa, and Global Tractor and Turf Products. It's a mouthful and it's descriptive. Everitt has been the guy in charge of half the world for Deere's ag division. That meant combines for Iowa, new factories in India and small and large tractors for Ethiopia. It also meant Everitt had a Yea or Nay on the new technologies that Deere's R&D guys threw at him. For Everitt, there were a lot of Yeas.

GPS technologies, digital devices and onboard computers were around before Everitt took charge. But they were just starting to get hot when he became a president. He saw the value in them and took a chance.

"The technology changes that are occurring are hugely significant in terms of their impact on our company and our customers," he says. So significant, that he likens them to the change in direction John Deere took in 1918 when it bought the Waterloo Gas Engine Co., and became a manufacturer of tractors.

Now, he says, Deere's vehicles will be more than machines designed to put horsepower in the field. "The tractor is going to become basically a rolling data acquisition tool. Building that infrastructure will have a great impact on agriculture."

GLOBAL MARKETS

Everitt also had a hand in extending Deere's international scope. When he became a president, Big Green was active in many parts of the world. But the ag division was just starting to see the potential of China, India, South America and, later, Africa.

"This was just at the time when these countries were starting to emerge," Everitt says. "We did some acquisitions and kind of educated the company that what was a quiet, backwater business was [becoming] really important. That really started growing the company."

Deere had been active in China since the late 1970s, shortly after Richard Nixon famously opened the door to the Communist country. Today Deere has five factories there and is building three more.

Deere also has two factories in Russia, two tractor factories and a combine factory in India and a strong presence is Eastern Europe, South America and Australia.

FOOD SECURITY

"We expect the demand for food to double between now and 2050. Unfortunately, there is not much more land to plant," Everitt says.

Therefore farmers will have to find efficiencies wherever they can.

"What we want to do is reduce variability [found in Nature] with technology, data and the same kind of management tools we use in the factory," Everitt says. But the task won't be easy. "Mother Nature is much more complex than a factory floor."

Nowhere is the challenge greater than in Sub-Saharan Africa. To understand that market better, Everitt recently visited 15 countries in 18 months.

"I've been quite surprised how fast these small land holders are moving up the curve," he says.

A pilot project in which Deere provided four farmers with equipment and financing caught his eye. The output on the farmers' land "doubled in the first year," Everitt says. The farmers made extra income by using their new equipment to do custom work for other farmers. Two of the four farmers in the pilot paid off their three-year notes in less than 12 months. The other two paid off theirs in less than 24 months.

The next year Deere sponsored 20 farmers in the same kind of pilot program... and got the same kind of results.

The experience inspired Everitt, "It [Africa] is a fascinating market. Ten, 15 years down the road it is going to be a phenomenal market."

THE FUTURE

Globalization has changed the way agricultural cycles function. "Will we ever see corn prices go back to $2? I doubt it," Everitt says. He believes agricultural will see "more volatility than cycles, but we will still have cycles." They will trend upward and will favor highly productive farmers.

"We will have to be much more adaptable... How you respond to that volatility is what will define success."

END OF THE ROAD?

Europe, Asia, Africa, South America, Australia. It's been quite a ride for a Midwesterner who had never left the U.S. before Deere sent him to Germany when he was in his late 30s.

"I've been places, seen things and eaten things that a kid from Kansas could never have imagined. It's been great," Everitt says.

His plan for retirement? More travel. But this time at his leisure and without a business suit.

Posted at 1:51PM CDT 07/23/12 by Jim Patrico
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