Western Courier

Scott Harris talks to students about agriculture

Steven Barnum, News editor

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Scott Harris, the Vice President of Case IH North America, spoke to students in Stipes Hall about his experience working in the agricultural industry.

Harris is a 1985 graduate of Western Illinois University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in applied technology. After leaving Macomb, he earned his master’s degree in retail banking from the University of Virginia. Graduate school may make sense for areas like business or finance, but Harris said it’s just as valuable to develop a strong work ethic.

“I always become a student of the industry that I am in and that serves me well,” Harris said. “The learning doesn’t end. When you continue to learn, it becomes rewarding to become an expert inyour field.”

Through his managerial experience, Harris has noticed certain qualities that make productive and successful workers. He thinks that collaboration and giving everyone the opportunity to contribute are important, but perhaps the most important is communicating effectively.

“You have to be able to explain yourself and articulate your ideas,” he said. “If you don’t have the necessary writing skills, then someone else will do it better than you even if their ideas isn’t as good. Writing is a lost art today.”

Additionally, Harris thinks that it’s critical for those in the agricultural industry to know how to fix the issues that the industry may face.

“You don’t have to know the technology or be an expert to be an innovator. We’re looking for problem solvers. Everyone can identify problems but we want people who know how to figure out how to solve them,” Harris said.

The challenges to the industry are often diverse and tough to control. Machinery can malfunction, severe weather can delay productivity and grain prices could temporarily decrease. There also may be times when demand is too high, which is difficult to keep up with.

“Our business is very volatile and cyclical so quality is a really important factor,” Harris said. “If we have a quality issue, it’s devastating to our business, reputation and relationship with producers. The relationship between dealers and producers is vital inthis business.”

Another challenge could be economic decisions imposed by the government. Harris talked about the ongoing trade war that President Donald Trump waged with China, which forced China to get their supply of soybeans from Brazil. As part of the domino effect, the United States has a carryover stock of beans so there will be more corn planted this year.

“The chess pieces are still moving around and eventually we’ll start selling to China again,” Harris said. “Corn farmers will make more money this year but this should settle out over time. If we get a trade deal done with China, then we will see an acceleration in the industry.”

Previously, Harris also worked in the auto industry, where he had the same philosophy as he does now. He believes in embracing competition because, in his experience, it forces people to work harder to catch up and excel. Some people may get frustrated by the process, but he welcomes the obstacle.

Harris travels extensively for work, something that he wishes he did more of when he first joined the industry. Its downfalls include countless nights staying in hotels and navigating through airports, which is tiresome; however, he enjoys meeting people from different regions in the world. He views traveling as a helpful step toward innovation.

“I was always looking for a new challenge and to learn and be motivated by making something new or better,” he said. “Taking on new challenges is what drove me.”

Those who are in the agricultural industry will discover that there are a lot of different areas in the field. For example, engineering, sales and finance play a larger role in agriculture than it may be perceived. Harris also said that infrastructure is one of the key components that can influence efficiency. Since the United States exports most of its grain to other countries, it’s important to have sustainable travel methods.

“These waterways are in terrible shape,” he said. “They are breaking down and they are prohibiting trade. We became the economic superpower that we are because we had the best infrastructure on the planet and now we letit deteriorate.”

On top of all of the external factors that are tough to manage, Harris said that the industry is also rapidly changing internally. Technological advancements and an increase in the sophistication of machinery has already led to the potential for driverless tractors. The changes should lessen the busy workload for farmers.

“We’re moving toward full automation,” Harris said. “Innovation is coming fast it’s a really exciting time to be in this industry.”

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The independent student newspaper of Western Illinois University. Serving Macomb since 1905.
Scott Harris talks to students about agriculture