RIGHT TO FIX TRACTORS

John Deere agreed to allow farmers to fix their own tractors

The agreement addresses a long-standing complaint from farmers about independent repairs of high-tech machinery

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John Deere tractor sitting inside a barn.
High tech.
Photo: Bing Guan (Reuters)

Farmers in the US will now be able to fix their own John Deere equipment or head to independent repair shops without intervention from the agricultural equipment manufacturer.

Addressing a long-standing complaint from farmers, American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) and John Deere signed a memorandum of understanding on Sunday that ensures farmers and ranchers have the freedom to repair their own farm equipment.

The agreement ensures farmers timely access to the tools, software and documentation originating from the manufacturer. The deal also protects equipment from changes that could compromise safety. John Deere and AFBF agreed to meet semi-annually to assess how the agreement is going and make any updates.

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“A piece of equipment is a major investment,” said AFBF president Zippy Duvall in a statement. “Farmers must have the freedom to choose where equipment is repaired, or to repair it themselves, to help control costs.”

The agreement comes as investment in agriculture technology booms, as the global food supply faces various challenges from climate change to labor shortages to growing populations.

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The lack of access to items like diagnostics software and digital files forces farmers to depend on manufacturers when the equipment breaks down. Repairs can be costly too, as the consolidation of the farming equipment industry enables big businesses like John Deere to increase prices for selling and repairing equipment.

The growing right-to-repair movement in the US

It’s not clear yet what the new repair process will look like for farmers. “We will be watching to see if farmers have expanded repair capability,” said John O’Reilly, director of the right-to-repair campaign at Public Interest Research Group, which advocates for consumers. He said he is cautious about whether John Deere will commit to the agreement. “Legislators should be watching closely—but should not take the approach of wait-and-see.”

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What’s interesting, he noted, is John Deere isn’t lobbying for legislation to require competitors to adopt the same policy. “It is curious that they support right-to-repair, and yet they wouldn’t want to support legislation to force their competitors to do the same,” he said, which suggests John Deere wants to get ahead of other tractor manufacturers. The company controls 53% of the US large tractor market.

Last year, the Biden administration issued an executive order instructing the Federal Trade Commission to come up with new regulations limiting manufacturers’ ability to restrict product repairs. New York state passed the Digital Fair Repair Act, which expands repair options for devices. Meanwhile, big tech companies including Microsoft and Apple are considering allowing consumers to repair their own products.

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“2023 could very well be the year of right-to-repair, where we see breakthroughs across the industries and across the economy,” said O’Reilly.