Q&A: Scott Harris, VP of Case IH North America
Since 2018 Scott Harris has served as the vice president of Case IH North America. He has held a number of executive positions within CNH Industrial brands since 2006. Recently, Harris spoke with Successful Farming editor Natalina Sents about the coronavirus pandemic in an exclusive interview.
Q: How has COVID-19 impacted Case IH and how you do business with farmers?
A: It’s been really far reaching, impacting employees both of Case IH and in our network, as well as the producers we support and the markets we operate in. All have been impacted materially.
Our corporate offices are closed. Most people can work from home and are doing so today. We were doing some level of that prior to COVID-19, but are certainly doing more of it, and almost exclusively, today.
However, our field people are still doing what they do with the appropriate safety protocols where they are necessary and required to support producers. And they’re doing it voluntarily. We’re doing so in some very creative ways. Because of the technology that we’ve got in our equipment today, we are able to share screens. We can actually work with a producer in an AFS Connect Magnum, for example, and share screens and talk through the operation or set up where we have producers in new machines that aren’t familiar. Normally we would sit side by side with them in the cab. Everybody has become quite creative, and we’re still able to get the job done.
Q: What does the pandemic mean for Case IH dealers?
A: About 40% of our dealerships had at some point closed their to the public, meaning they are not accepting customers on premise, but are still going on the farm to support customers and are doing carry-out service for parts. They also continue to work on customer machines in their shops. Many for extended hours. To their credit, every one of our dealers has remained fully available to support producers. Most have begun to reopen their locations now. Those that are open are using advanced sanitation protocols and wearing masks. Many have put up plexiglass to separate the parts counter from the producer to protect everybody.
All of this happened so rapidly. It’s amazing the resilience of the producers, our network, and our organization to work through this dynamic and challenging environment.
Q: What has this meant for your manufacturing facilities? Has anyone been sick?
A: The health and safety of our employees is our top priority. We’ve been very fortunate with respect to those who have actually become sick. There have been very few at any of our locations across North America. Though sadly there have been a couple.
Most of our plants have been idle at some point during this crisis. We’ve begun to ramp all of them back up and have implemented all of the appropriate safety protocols. For example, staggered shifts, PPE for every employee, temperature checks, and many more protocols.
With respect to production, we’ve been able to adjust production schedules or pull forward future planed down days to help keep employees safe.
We’ve also allowed the supply chain to catch up a bit because not all of our suppliers are equipped the same way. Not all of them are domestic. We’ve got a global supply chain and this thing has impacted suppliers in Europe, China, and Mexico.
By monitoring and managing production, we’re able to allow the supply chain to catch up. We’ll work through it.
Q: When were plants idled? Was that in response to COVID-19?
A: Timing has been different for each of them depending on the circumstances. We’ve got several plants in North America. They’ve all been on different schedules and they’ve all come back up on different schedules.
Q: How will idled production impact how farmers experience parts and service?
A: It won’t. We’ve been deemed an essential business by the federal government. That includes us as manufacturers, our dealer networks, and our suppliers. The North American farmer never quits. Our producers are critical to food supply.
We remain operational. All of our parts depots remain open and operating. We’re in the heat of planting season. We’ve been prepared for this season for some months and we’re supporting our dealers and producers as usual.
Q: So the parts farmers need in the busy planting season have already been on shelves for months before all of this hit?
A: Right. To be honest, we’re preparing for harvest already. We’re well prepared for the season. I’d say most of our dealers across the U.S. and Canada are fully operational and ready to support the North American farmer.
Q: As you look ahead to harvest, how do you expect farmers’ experience to be different than in years past?
A: I don’t think it will be any different in the way that they are supported. We may do some things remotely. They may not need to go to the dealership and talk to somebody. They may not get a cup of coffee or a bag of popcorn and have the camaraderie and the discussion that might happen. That remains to be seen. But when it comes to getting the job done, we have already got the processes in place to support the producer, and I don’t expect them to experience anything less than they have gotten from our very capable network in years past.
Q: In this period of time, businesses are shifting priorities and reacting to the markets. What impact will this have on research, testing, and product development?
A: Because our offices are closed, it certainly makes it more difficult, but we’re still working. All of our employees are still working. We’ve had some modest furloughs, but very few in the ag segment. Our construction brand and that business has been impacted a little bit differently than ag.
Our business continues and farmers are going to farm. They’re going to plant, they’re going to cultivate, and they’re going to harvest. We have a very aggressive research-and-development plan and schedule relative to the technology that we’re putting in the equipment today.
We’re fully launching our AFS Connect Magnum as we speak. The AFS Connect Steiger is coming late summer and early this fall, and it will be done as scheduled. We’ve got multiple other rollouts and product developments that remain on schedule and we expect to deliver as promised.
Q: Farmers are used to seeing Case IH at farm shows and fairs after they’re done with planting season and through the summer. What does the future of those events look like for you?
A: I think it’s going to look different. We’re working on different scenarios right now.
Q: We know there are many farmers in heartbreaking situations right now. What is Case IH doing to help dealers and employees work with distressed farmers?
A: It’s really heartbreaking when you see some of what we’re seeing today.
I think the supply chain will ultimately catch up, and I think demand will catch up as well. I live in Wisconsin and we’ve seen it personally, farmers who are being asked to dump tens of thousands of gallons of their raw product. It’s devastating.
We’re advocating almost daily with both state lawmakers in every state that we operate in, as well as the federal government for aid packages to ensure that the North American producer gets what they need to be able to get through this very difficult time.
CNH Industrial, through the CNH Industrial Foundation, has provided $2 million already. We are working now with the local communities in which we operate to ensure that it’s applied where it’s needed in the farming communities.