In annual meeting, Deere reflects on challenges, looks forward to big year

During an unorthodox annual meeting, Deere & Co.’s chairman and CEO reflected on a tumultuous 2020 and looked forward to a promising 2021.

The largest employer in Dubuque County, Deere typically holds its yearly shareholders gathering at its corporate headquarters in Moline, Ill. However, lingering concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic forced Wednesday’s meeting into a virtual format.

John May opened his remarks by calling 2020 “one of the most consequential years in Deere’s 184-year history.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic created enormous challenges,” said May, a former factory manager at John Deere Dubuque Works. “It had, to say the least, a dramatic effect on our employees, operations and customers around the world.”

Even so, the company’s leader found silver linings in both the way the company navigated the recent challenges and the outlook for 2021.

May expressed pride in the fact that governments around the world deemed Deere’s agriculture and construction businesses “essential,” emphasizing that this speaks to the company’s vital role in securing the world’s food supply and meeting infrastructure needs.

He discussed the measures implemented by Deere through the past 11 months, which included employee health screenings, enhanced personal protective equipment and staggered production schedules.

May spoke briefly about the construction and forestry division, which includes John Deere Dubuque Works.

“The construction and forestry division — which accounted for roughly 30% of our sales — remained solidly profitable, aided by sales of road-building and compact construction equipment,” May said.

He noted that the company introduced new technologies that automated jobs such as grading. It also rolled out new or updated construction equipment, including a line of utility loaders with improved comfort and performance.

Deere’s annual meeting came just five days after the company unveiled its earnings for the first quarter of the new fiscal year.

The construction and forestry division reported sales of $2.47 billion in the three months ending Jan. 31, which represented a 21% increase compared to the same quarter last fiscal year.

Deere officials also presented a positive outlook for the fiscal year as a whole, projecting sales of $10.5 billion to $11 billion in the division. If these benchmarks are achieved, it would represent at least an 18% increase compared to the $8.9 billion in sales the division saw in the last fiscal year.

Addressing shareholders on Wednesday, May struck a positive tone about the year to come.

“Looking ahead, we’re optimistic about 2021,” he said. “Conditions in the farm economy are improving, while demand is picking up in the construction and road-building sectors as well.”