Movers & Shakers: Jen Hartmann of John Deere

Imagine crafting a tweet for John Deere. 

Not the hardy blacksmith we credit as an American entrepreneur, but the behemoth equipment company he founded in 1837 that is now worth $110 billion – with a b. Where do you even begin to spell out 280 characters that live up to the hype of one of the most iconic brands, not just in agriculture, but in American business? 

Well, you could ask Jen Hartmann.

The social media maestro herself – more formally known as the Director of Strategic Public Relations and Enterprise Social Media  – could give you some tips. She has been guiding the Deere & Co. public relations ship for over a year. And remember, this wasn’t any ordinary year. 

Magnetic caught Jen for a quick Q&A to talk about Deere, leadership, and her (very busy) life outside of work.

 

Magnetic: John Deere is one of the most recognizable and valuable brands across all industries, not just agriculture. Would you say this is your dream job?

I grew up in a rural community outside of the Quad Cities – the home of Deere World Headquarters, and dreamt of working for Deere for as long as I can remember. When I got my first internship in PR, I set my sights on one day being the head of PR for the company. It wasn’t until I started working here just over 12 years ago that I realized just how iconic the brand really is, how many fervent fans there are, and just how much the brand has meant to generations of customers.

 

John Deere Social Media

You took over your role from a 21-year John Deere communications and PR veteran literally days before the pandemic shut down the country. What was that like?

I’m genuinely not sure there are words to describe what those first several weeks and then months really felt like. It was surreal. We had factories around the world all working to keep the supply chain and production rolling – while executing all the safety protocols we could gather from health officials to ensure the well-being of our employees. We had another factory convene employees to produce face shields for health care workers. And salaried employees outside manufacturing units headed home to navigate full-time remote work and online schooling for their children.

I fielded over 300 media inquiries during those initial first weeks and felt like I never took a breath. Looking back, I’m grateful I had to hit the ground running and quickly build relationships with internal stakeholders, leaders and media outlets. As my former boss quipped, it took him 21 years to get 21 years of experience. It only took me 3 weeks.  

 

John Deere Tweet

When it comes to social media, John Deere can be known to have some witty tweets and unorthodox user-generated content (just go search #JohnDeere on TikTok). How does your team stay creative and keep a 184-year-old brand fresh?

#JohnDeere now has over 3.5 Billion views on TikTok – and we haven’t posted a single TikTok to our brand channel. Our fans, customers and employees keep the brand fresh thanks to all the incredible content they share and the real-time approach we’ve taken to our social media channels. Our brand fans and customers have us covered! 

For that very reason, we’re not as concerned about posting content as we are about building communities on each platform. Engaging in meaningful ways. Sharing in celebratory moments. Connecting with families in real life. And yes, using humor and a bit of snark at times to have fun with our audience on Twitter. The last thing people want from a brand handle is brochure copy. Twitter is about engaging in real time, in real conversations.  

 

Jen Hartmann Family 

A recent tweet of yours noted that you’re celebrating a 10-year anniversary of having a brain tumor removed. How did that change your perspective both personally and professionally?

I spent a lot of time after the surgery considering how to make the most of this incredible gift. First, I started a nonprofit, the Royal Ball Run for Autism, to celebrate incredible individuals like my daughter, Lyric, and to build a support system for local families touched by autism. Next, I decided this new lease on life meant my husband and I should absolutely continue trying to have a baby. I’d suffered several miscarriages by the time I had my surgery and we had all but given up. Proud to say our son Kade turns 8 next month.

 

Jen Hartmann Tweet

 

How would you describe your leadership style and who do you look to for leadership inspiration?

I’m an idea person and tend to follow my gut vs. adopting scholarly guidance or corporate norms. My lack of process, documentation and analysis probably drives a lot of people crazy. And yet, I’m most comfortable identifying problems, inspiring a vision, and letting my team go – in whatever direction or skill sets they need to follow to get there. I had a former team member tell me she used to warn anyone new to the team that “Jen will not be holding your hand….she’ll want you to take the lead and go.”

 

What does Jen Hartmann like to do in her free time…assuming you can carve some out?!

My husband and I both love baseball and we’ve instilled that same love for the game in our son. There’s nothing I love more than watching him or the Cubs play ball. And of course, anything Royal Ball Run for Autism is my sweet spot. We’ve built an incredible community of family members and friends through the organization and it’s such a joy to share in the unique challenges and successes of being a special needs parent.

Jen Hartmann Family

What’s a good book or podcast you recently devoured…and a key takeaway or ‘ah-ha’ moment from it?

Because I work so much, I tend to stay clear of business or news-related podcasts. I’m currently obsessed with the Piketown Massacre podcast series and have been listening to it every morning during my workout. It’s my escape.  


Follow Jen on Twitter for great insights on PR/social media, leadership, and life at @jenalyson.

A Nitrogen Nightmare in the Making?

The American Farm Bureau is waving a red flag on a fertilizer fiasco that could drain U.S. farmers’ piggy banks.

The culprit? Potential duties on urea ammonium nitrate solutions (UAN).

In early July, CF Holdings, Inc. filed petitions with the U.S. government requesting countervailing and antidumping duty investigations of UAN imports from Russia and Trinidad and Tobago. The duties intend to offset the value of dumping — aka exporters selling in the U.S. at a below-normal value price — and countervailing subsidies.

CF Holdings, the U.S.’s largest UAN producer, claims the countries haven’t been fighting fair, underpricing their product by as much as 433.37%.

The more you know: More than 80% of American UAN fertilizer imports come from Russia and Trinidad and Tobago.

Bad news for the bottom line: Farm Bureau says UAN solutions are the most common nitrogen delivery vehicle, making up nearly half of nitrogen fertilizer usage. 59% of all fertilizer applied to fields is nitrogen. Roughly 25% of operating costs are attributable to UAN solutions… meaning these duties could do major damage to farmers’ bottom lines.

Insult to injury. Fertilizer costs were already projected to increase by roughly 5% between 2021 and 2022. The potential tariffs could make that a double-digit increase.

Can D.C. Fix Ag Labor?

The struggle is real with the current U.S. labor shortage, and agriculture is certainly not excluded. The sector is feeling the squeeze, and legislators are pushing to reform the guest worker program to help.

The issue at hand: the current H-2A guest worker program is structured for seasonal, not year-round, help.

A proponent’s point: “Employers in Iowa — animal agriculture, agricultural processing — is not a seasonal business, and that’s what the H-2A program is for is seasonal workers,” Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said. “So I hear from farmers and business(es) who just can’t find people to work.”

Today there are an estimated 2.5M farmworkers, about half of them undocumented. In March, the House passed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2021, which provides mass amnesty without addressing the core labor issues. Republicans aren’t fond of the bill — and won’t approve it until Democrats secure the border.

Senator Grassley also argued the bill fails to address many of the shortfalls of H-2A. “This will involve expanding the program to cover year-round agricultural industries such as pork, dairy, and agricultural processing. It should also involve streamlining the program, reducing red tape and addressing the high cost of using the program.”

Where does it go from here? More debate on how to structure a bill that would address both worker legalization issues and solve the agricultural labor shortage.

Frozen Coffee – It’s Not What You Think

Iced coffee picked up a new meaning last week, and not in a good way.

Early in the morning on July 20, air temperatures across Brazil’s coffee belt settled at an icy 29 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s the coldest temperature the region has seen since 1994.

And just like chocolate milk does not come from brown cows, frozen coffee plants do not make iced coffee.

Farmers are still assessing the extent of the damage, but early indications are not good. One estimate pegs the damage at 4.5M bags off the 70M bag projection for 2022 exports. But the full impact won’t be known until farmers are able to determine if the plants can be saved or not.

Get in line: Like the Starbucks drive-through, the line of challenges stacked against Brazilian coffee farmers is long. Before the frost, drought conditions plagued this year’s growing season, and futures prices were already high. Following the frost, prices surged another 13%.

Dark roast coming? The coming months will be mega important to the cost of your caffeine habit. Forecasters are predicting a return of La Niña. AKA more drought.

If the forecasts come to fruition, count on prices to keep rising.

Senators Take Aim at Corn Ethanol

Corn growers be like, “What just happened here?

A few short weeks after a bullish outlook on the future of ethanol, new legislation now has the corn industry feeling a little sheepish.

Refresher: Amid court setbacks less than a month ago that nixed year-round E15 sales and allowed more small refineries to apply ethanol blending exemptions, bipartisan legislators in key farm states introduced bills that would encourage higher ethanol blends. Things were looking up.

But this week, another group of senators has introduced legislation that seeks to fully eliminate the national ethanol blending mandate. We’re not in the Corn Belt anymore.

Citing a host of grievances, including the risk to good-paying oil refinery jobs, the bipartisan group did not mince words.

Senator soundbites:

  • “The federal government forcing Americans to buy billions of gallons of corn ethanol is terrible policy on many levels.” — Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA)
  • “The federal corn ethanol mandate no longer makes sense when better, lower-carbon alternatives exist.” — Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)

Playin’ politics: The day the bill was introduced, the White House announced the administration would delay the annual review process that determines biofuel blending requirements for petro products.

Mum was the official word, but insiders noted the delay was due to President Biden’s political catch-22 that has him stuck between two key blue-collar constituencies: farmers and refinery workers.

Where this goes: Long-term decisions are a ways off, but NCGA President John Linder quickly responded, echoing what is likely on the minds of most corn growers: “This bill is ill-conceived and would have a devastating impact on air quality, the diversity of our energy supply, fuel prices, and rural economies.”

Forecast Recognition

Iron Man might just have become Climate Man.

Robert Downey, Jr.’s venture fund was one of several to take part in a $12M Series A round for forecast-focused startup ClimateAi. The new tech tool aims to help make agriculture more profitable and food systems more resilient through artificial intelligence climate forecasting.

Learning about clouds on the cloud: So meta. Farmers know weather is a main hurdle to jump each year. Talks about climate change are like the temperatures predicted: on the uptick.

The World Meteorological Organization predicts a 90% likelihood we’ll see the hottest year on record between 2021 and 2025. Looking forward to it…?

Climate Avengers: ClimateAi hopes to help the agricultural supply chain predict the weather to help minimize its climate risk exposure. Their science aims to forecast extreme weather events more than two weeks before they occur, thanks to machine learning and loads of data points.

This is the same technology that powers successful rocket launches. You’re welcome, Jeff Bezos

Specifically, this could help the food supply chain by:

  • Identifying new locations for climate-smart expansions for specific crops and ingredients
  • Managing inventory better to avoid shortages
  • Forecasting pressures from pests and diseases

SoundbAite: “ClimateAi is a platform that provides long-term insights into weather and climate impacts, providing businesses the information they need today to take the actions needed now to adapt to the climate disruptions of tomorrow.” – Jon Schulhof, co-founder of FootPrint Coalition Ventures.

Taking it global: ClimateAi has ambitious goals to be deployed across half a billion acres of farmland around the world in the next three years.

Animal Ag Serious About Sustainability

Twelve American meat, poultry, dairy, and animal feed and ingredient companies solemnly swear they are up to no good good for the animal protein industry.

The companies formed the first joint initiative of its kind, the Protein PACT for the People, Animals, and Climate of Tomorrow. The goal? To “accelerate momentum and verify progress toward global sustainable development goals across all animal protein sectors.”

Submitted as a sustainability game changer, the Protein PACT will make center-of-the-plate sustainability a side dish at the UN Food Systems Summit event in Rome on Tuesday, July 27.

Oh, and this: The North American Meat Institute released its draft sustainability framework too. Public comments are open to help set transparent baselines and measure sustainability progress. The framework has an ambitious 100 metrics determined through collaboration with experts, supply chain partners, and members.

Funding for the Protein PACT came from U.S. farmers and ranchers, and the pork, dairy, and soybean checkoffs also financially supported the effort. The twelve organizations include groups like Animal Agriculture Alliance, Elanco, National Corn Growers Association, Pork Checkoff, and the U.S. Meat Export Federation, among others.

The West’s Insect Issue

The Western U.S. is facing a drought dilemma of biblical proportions: grasshopper plagues.

In large swaths of Oregon, Montana, and Wyoming, as well as some areas of Idaho, Arizona, Colorado, Texas, and Nebraska, the native insects are appearing on the heels of a dry planting season. Grasshoppers and drought go together like PB&J, so the insects are having a hayday.

Not seen by some growers since the mid-1980s, grasshoppers attack rangeland and crop fields. They chew through tender plants, leaves, and grain heads, and are a competitor for livestock forage on public lands, where ranchers have no easy back up plans for the damaged food supply.

No small issue: Populations of 14 grasshoppers per square yard – totaling the weight of a sheep – become a problem. They can eat their bodyweight in forage each day, leading to a $900M impact from a typical infestation. This year, populations are reaching 50-60 grasshoppers per square yard.

Taking care of business: This week, the USDA began spraying diflubenzuron in hard-hit Montana to kill nymphs. Conservationists are concerned about impacts to other insects in the treated area. But officials say their skip-a-swath approach protects slower moving insects while targeting the far-traveling grasshoppers.

Where this goes: Without killing nymphs, the outbreak will peak in roughly two months when the 2-3 inch-long insects will be able to out-eat cattle. They’ll die out when they run out of forage – and likely after they’ve laid next year’s eggs.

Germany’s (Continued) Pork Problem

Stop us if you’ve heard this before.

African Swine Fever (ASF) is stirring up panic in the pork world.

Some viruses just won’t take a hint.

How it started: Germany has been doing everything it can to keep infections out of its hog herd. They went as far as building fences along their border in an attempt to keep infected wild boars in Poland. But last September, the game changed when the first cases of ASF were confirmed in wild animals.

Amidst its own recovery from the devastating impact of the virus, China took the news of wild German boars with ASF hard. They, among other Asian nations, immediately banned imports of German pork.

How it’s going: Germany is the newest addition to the list of countries that have now found ASF in farm-raised pigs. Two farms were confirmed to have the virus last Friday: one an organic farm of about 200 pigs, the second a small farm with only two pigs.

Most in the German pork industry do not see the news as all that concerning. They point to the fact that they have already been limited on export options, thanks to the ban on exports to Asian nations. And the EU is expected to maintain their regionalization approach to restricting trade within its borders.

Ag Data Watch Dogs

Who’s watching your farm data?

A better question for farmers might be… who isn’t watching your data?

And could NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens) be the solution? NFTs allow people to purchase and own “original” data content and are based on blockchain technology. They’re entirely unique and have software code consisting of smart contracts: once one is minted onto a token on the blockchain, it’s permanent.

In an agricultural setting, this means an AgTech company would attach an NFT to a specific dataset that would be uploaded to its servers and could create a single dataset for its farmer-data-originators. Any copies made of this data would violate the owner’s permission.

Backstory: Currently, there’s not much oversight in place to look out for farmers and how their data is used. At this point, Ag Data Transparent (ADT) is the only organization doing that work.

“ADT certifies companies that commit to be transparent about how they collect, store, use, share, and delete farmers’ ag data.” And they have certified almost 30 AgTech and ag industry legacy companies in a few years.

Who’s behind this ADT? A few farmer-trusted organizations including the National Farm Bureau, National Farmers Union, and national commodity organizations.

The bottom-line: “Datasets that work for farmers need to be created,” said Bill Northey, the USDA’s Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation. More than anything? Farmers need to feel comfortable knowing who has access to their data.