FFA Reconnect: Laura Donaldson

Laura Donaldson

Q. HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED WITH FFA?

I joined FFA in the sixth grade, and I was hooked. I was active in so many different career development events, from FFA Creed to job interview to livestock judging and horse judging. Not all of those ended up being my passion, but they did help me figure out what was. I had always been most interested in row-crop production, and I learned that even more so through FFA judging experiences.

Q. WAS YOUR FFA SUPERVISED AGRICULTURAL EXPERIENCE (SAE) PROGRAM CONNECTED TO YOUR FAMILY’S FARM?

Yes, it was! I grew up on a row crop operation in northwest Indiana, where my dad grows corn and soybeans. I started renting 11 acres of my own to grow soybeans for my SAE. I picked up three more acres along the way. Ten years later, I’m still farming that same 14 acres. I use my vacation days from John Deere to go back to farm my ground, and my dad still helps me out a lot when I can’t be there. I think continuing to farm a little helps keep me grounded and involved in production agriculture, while being able to pursue my career at Deere.

Q. DID YOU DEVELOP AN APPRECIATION FOR THE JOHN DEERE BRAND WHEN GROWING UP ON YOUR FAMILY’S FARM?

Oh definitely. The first tractor I learned to drive was a John Deere 4020. When my family moved from the main farm to a new house down the road, I was pretty upset about it. I think I was in 8th grade.

I told my mom I wasn’t moving unless she painted my walls John Deere green and yellow. She did it! And she put John Deere signs and other decorations in my room. I guess you could say this career was pre-destined. At the time, though, I just wanted to farm. I wasn’t even thinking about working for a big company, so it’s interesting how that ended up.

Q. WHEN DID YOU KNOW THAT WORKING IN AGRIBUSINESS WAS YOUR CAREER GOAL?

While I was a state FFA officer, we did business and industry visits. And during those visits, I became really interested in agribusiness and the industry side of things. I liked getting to know our FFA sponsors and having conversations with them about careers in agribusiness. That’s what helped me decide to major in agribusiness management while at Purdue. I always had a passion for equipment on the farm, so that drove me to talk to the John Deere representative at the Purdue career fair.

Q. DID YOU HAVE A COLLEGE INTERNSHIP?

I interned with John Deere twice, actually. For my first internship, I traveled to 24 states and visited 40 dealerships to talk about some changes in the sales process. That travel and the ability to use my presentation skills really developed my passion for the company and its people. I was sold. I wasn’t sure I’d ever find another company that would match my passion for equipment, agriculture and people in the same way that John Deere did, with also giving me the opportunity for global experiences.

Q. WHEN YOU ACCEPTED YOUR FULL-TIME JOB WITH DEERE, WHAT TYPE OF TRAINING DID YOU RECEIVE?

Deere offers a great two-year training program, which gives you time to learn about different areas of the business and get more familiar with the company. I spent six months in Olathe, Kan., working on the small ag tactical marketing team. Then I went to Orlando, Fla., for four months. There, at our training site, I instructed classes for John Deere dealers and sales professionals. Next was another six-month experience in Des Moines, Iowa, with the precision ag group. Now I’m moving to Moline, Ill., to work as a product manager for air seeders, planters and box drills.

Q. WHAT EXCITES YOU ABOUT YOUR NEW JOB?

My motivation for moving to this new job within Deere is the opportunity to understand new crop sectors. I’ve been really unfamiliar with canola and other small grains production. But now, working with air seeders, I’m going to have to better understand that side of the business and those cropping systems. That’s exciting for me!

Q. WHAT MAKES JOHN DEERE SUCH A GREAT PLACE TO WORK?

The people, number one. We hire world-class people to work at Deere who genuinely care about feeding the world. Deere is committed to those linked to the land, and that’s really true about all of our employees as well.

Another big part of what I like is that there are so many different opportunities. You could work in marketing, fulfilling orders, promoting products. You could manage a group of people in a factory setting who are putting the machine together. Or you could work in HR and recruit new staff. Regardless of the job you have, it’s one company and one culture. That also makes me think of our values, which are another great strength of the company. Our four values are integrity, quality, commitment and innovation. I see those in our products but also in the people I work with.

Q. HOW DO YOU STAY INVOLVED WITH FFA?

I give back monetarily, and I try to donate my time when I can.

What’s really neat is that Deere & Company management realized that there are a lot of former FFA members as employees. Many of us don’t live close to our home chapters, but still wanted to be involved with the National FFA Alumni Association.

Two years ago, I helped charter the John Deere alumni affiliate chapter. We have a lot of former members within our affiliate chapter but also people who weren’t FFA members themselves. I really like that about Deere – its commitment to FFA and helping us remain connected.

A tractor works in a corn field of of highway 17 in Elizabeth City. Elizabeth City North Carolina 2007. JCI Photo - IAN CURCIO

John Deere and FFA

Founded in 1837 by John Deere, a blacksmith and inventor, platinum FFA sponsor Deere & Company has grown into one of the world’s most admired businesses. Through its numerous products and services, John Deere is dedicated to those who are linked to the land – farmers and ranchers, landowners, builders.

For more than 72 years, John Deere has worked with FFA to provide FFA members the opportunity to grow into leaders, build their communities and strengthen agriculture.

Deere’s support through the years has allowed FFA to deliver its mission to millions of members. Their gifts have supported the National FFA Organization’s career development events, proficiency awards, National Chapter Awards, Agriscience Fair and leadership conferences for state officers. Deere is also a key supporter of the FFA scholarship program, in conjunction with John Deere dealers.

In 2015, John Deere pledged to donate $1 million dollars annually over the next five years to help FFA continue its strides in creating future leaders.

Thank you, John Deere!