My social media channels were turned upside down Tuesday night when a photo surfaced of a John Deere clothing tag. The tag, which was attached to a John Deere infant outfit, was purchased by Caleigh Elizabeth Wright and her husband during a trip to Germany in December of 2015. The couple took part in a tour of the country’s agriculture sector, which included a stop to the John Deere plant where forage harvesters and combines are made. While in the gift shop, Caleigh decided to purchase the onesie in preparation for the arrival of the couple’s first child. It wasn’t until Caleigh got back to the United States and went to wash the garment that she noticed the tag and posted about it on Facebook.
But Wait, What’s Wrong With That?
I briefly want to address an issue here. Among the social media posts and sharing of this image, many of people have asked why conventional farmers are upset by this message. Is it really so wrong for John Deere to support organic agriculture?
Of course not!
I support farmers and consumers having choices, including the ability to choose which agricultural production methods they want to support. The caveat is that I want those choices to be informed choices and based on reality, not marketing gimmicks. I also do not support organic marketing that makes conventional farmers sound like the spawn of Satan. That’s precisely the problem here!
This tag suggests, not so subtly, that conventional farmers are wrecking havoc on the environment and our families. But that’s not the truth. Conventional farmers are subject to strict government regulations. Conventional farmers care for and want to protect rivers and groundwater. Conventional farmers rely on and work to maintain soil fertility. Conventional farmers choose production methods that will keep our families (and yours) safe! Genetically modified cotton is just as safe as non-GMO cotton and does not destroy the environment or farm families.
Being environmentally-friendly is not exclusive to organic farmers!
Oh, and organic farmers use pesticides, too.
An Explanation, Please
I was pretty
enraged upset by this tag and the message that John Deere was supporting. After all, our family has a lot of green equipment in our barns! I wanted a comment directly from the company on this topic, hoping they had a good explanation for this. So, I sent them the following message:
My family are farmers in Southwest Michigan where we grow GMO corn and soybeans. We mostly farm using John Deere equipment. I also share our farming story and support for modern agriculture on my blog at TheFarmersDaughterUSA.com.
I am wondering if you can please explain this tag that recently surfaced from one of your products? You can find the link here.
I support food and farming choices. I respect whatever agricultural production methods farmers and consumers want to support, but I cannot believe that you would allow your brand to be sold with this type of statement. Lots of conventional and GMO farmers spend lots of money on your equipment and yet you’ve allowed a tag that attacks our production methods.
I would love to get a response to this product tag and hear your side of the story.
I received a response the next afternoon. It said:
Hi Amanda –
Thank you for your email. John Deere-branded merchandise is made by suppliers that are not owned or managed by Deere. Information contained on a branded merchandise tag concerning cotton production reflects the opinion of the vendor and not the official position of John Deere.
Deere serves customers who use a variety of cotton production methods and Deere does not take a position on which is the most suitable method. We will be reviewing how best to clarify what company is making any statement on a merchandise tag that carries the John Deere trademark.
Again, we appreciate your time and please let us know if you have any further questions or concerns.
Have a great day,
That’s Not Enough
It is not acceptable for an internationally recognized company to license out its logo and brand and then turn a blind eye to what that vendor is doing with it. If your brand or logo is put on a product, then you are endorsing that product. You are allowing your brand to support whatever message or statement is being made with that product. If you want to pretend that you do not support a certain production method or made decisions on which type of agriculture is better, then you better not let your logo be used to help sell that message.
The only reason John Deere allowed such a description to show up next to its label is because it knew that would help sell the product. Imagine if one of John Deere’s vendors decided to throw the John Deere label onto a shirt with a a swastika. I doubt the company would twiddle its thumbs and pretend it didn’t know about it. I’m sure that the product would be pulled from store shelves immediately.
But John Deere doesn’t have a problem with throwing its farming customers under the bus to sell clothing. Conventional farmers spend millions of dollars each year purchasing their equipment, products, and merchandise. The very least John Deere could do is see to it that licensees of their logo and brand are not alienating or attacking their primary customer base, especially for such an insignificant product.
I’m disappointed that John Deere couldn’t come up with a better answer.
Bottom line: John Deere allowed it. They need to own it. Don’t make excuses. Don’t pass the buck.
[UPDATE 5/20/16: I got a second response from John Deere, which you can read here.]