Giving bread-basket Farmers the Ability to repair their Tractors

Right-to-repair’ advocates skeptical of John Deere agreement, NPR, Joe Hernandez

Pulling from NPR’s Joe Hernandez’s article and adding some of my automotive background. to explain.

Like automobiles, tractors have gone high-tech using on-board computers and semi-conductors to run various systems within cars and also farm tractors. This includes systems such as fuel injection to oxygen ratios, ignition, timing, temperature, and the overall efficiency of the engine, etc. The difference between cars and farm equipment policies being automotive OEMs typically give auto repair and owners the information needed to repair vehicles. To date, similar information and data is being withheld from farmers for their farm tractors and equipment. Machinery typically costing far more than dad’s HellCat or F250.

Giving out technical data and repair information does make sense. With autos, knowledgeable owners and mechanics can buy the equipment to plug into the system and read the diagnostics. This typically gives mechanics the ability to repair various automobiles built by different OEMs. Farm equipment owners are finding it difficult to do similar with their farm equipment as the various farm equipment OEMs are not making such information available for non-OEM mechanics and knowledgeable farmers doing maintenance or repairs. As NPR’s Joe Hernandez reports, OEM manufacturers are tight-lipped in disclosing the electronics information and purposely making it difficult or nearly impossible for farmers and independent repair shops. The result?

OEM manufacturers captured the lucrative farm equipment repair market through nondisclosure of technical information. It has finally come to pass, an agreement with John Deere has been reached. The agreement (MOU) “may” finally give farmers greater capability in repairing the company’s products and lower the costs of doing so. But note the Purpose of the MOU as stated in John Deere’s agreement.

“The Purpose of this MOU is, through a voluntary private sector commitment to outcomes rather than legislative or regulatory measures.”

In other words, if legislation is passed, all bets can or may be off. Yes, they may win in court after each farm equipment companies drag their feet.

AFBF’s Announcement and Understanding

The American Farm Bureau Federation announced Sunday it had reached a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with John Deere. The memorandum promises farmers and independent repair shops the information they would need to service or repair OEM equipment. John Deere said the agreement “reaffirms its commitment made to ensure customers have the diagnostic tools and information they need to make many repairs to their machines.”

However, there is skepticism in the agricultural field. There is worry that the latest agreement doesn’t go far enough. It is viewed as an attempt to stave off the passage of “right-to-repair” legislation at the federal and state levels. Walter Schweitzer, president of the Montana Farmers Union,

“There’s no commitment from anyone to enforce it.”

Third-generation farmer and rancher Walter Schweitzer, questions why John Deere would reach a private agreement. He points to a provision allowing the company to pull out of the memorandum if any right-to-repair legislation is enacted. He adds,

“If they truly, honestly wanted to give farmers and ranchers and independent repair shops the right to repair equipment, why are they so afraid of legislation that authorizes that?”

The agreement comes after years of pressure from farmers and right-to-repair advocates. Pressure urging John Deere to make it easier to identify and repair problems with its tractors and farm equipment.

John Deere wants to empower customers to repair their own products

Under the memorandum of understanding (MOU), farmers and independent repair shops will be able to “buy access” to John Deere’s software, manuals, and other information needed to service Deere equipment. Previously, farmers generally had to wait for technicians from the company and authorized repair shops for fixes. After spending $thousands, farmers have to buy repair manuals?

The federation and John Deere have also agreed to meet at least twice a year to discuss any issues related to the deal. Sam Kieffer, the American Farm Bureau Federation’s vice president of public policy, told NPR that the group preferred to reach a private agreement with the company.

“Our members asked us to pursue a private sector agreement, and our members wanted to avoid a patchwork quilt of different rules across state lines, recognizing that manufacturers — not just Deere, but manufacturers in general — will need to be operating at the national level, even internationally.”

The federation agreed to encourage state farm bureaus to refrain from “introducing, promoting, or supporting federal or state ‘Right to Repair’ legislation beyond the commitments in this MOU.”

Under the agreement, John Deere can also protect its trade secrets and bar users from overriding safety features in its equipment.

Skeptics applaud Deere’s action but doubt it will follow through

Kevin O’Reilly, the right-to-repair campaign director at the Public Interest Research Group, believes the memorandum of understanding appears to be a step forward. He also notes Deere and other manufacturers have made similar promises in the past.

“If this document, if this MOU, completely comes through on what it’s stated to do, then this would be a win for farmers,” O’Reilly told NPR. “But we’re not totally convinced that that will be the case.”

John Deere stated it has provided customers some diagnostic tools to identify problems with their equipment.

Montana Farmers Union President Walter Schweitzer, many farmers could still be blocked from diagnosing or fixing problems with their tractors, combines, and other equipment. They are forced to wait for a John Deere technician to be available.

In the past, he too has had to wait weeks for John Deere to fix his tractor, a significant chunk of time for farm equipment to be out of commission.

“Rain can wreck a crop in two, three hours. A hailstorm can destroy your whole crop in just a matter of minutes,” Schweitzer said. “If you’re sitting there with a $100,000 or a $500,000 piece of equipment that you can’t repair, then you’ve got a paperweight. What good is that?”

Efforts to make the “right to repair” a law are increasing

President Biden issued an executive order in July 2021 encouraging the FTC to make rules cracking down on manufacturers that limit users and third-party companies from repair their electronics. Shortly after, the FTC said it would devote more resources to combating unlawful repair restrictions.

There have also been recent attempts to enact laws guaranteeing consumers a right to repair the electronics they’ve bought.

The Democratic Senator from Montana Jon Tester introduced legislation last year limiting repair restrictions in the agricultural industry.

More than half of U.S. states are considering right-to-repair laws. Recently, New York State Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a right-to-repair law requiring equipment manufacturers to provide repair information and parts for some consumer electronics. This would not include some products such as medical devices and home appliances.

The momentum is there to allow US bread-basket farmers or repair shops repair farm equipment. Now let’s see if big farm equipment business is being honest. Link to Memorandum is below.

American Farm Bureau Federation and John Deere’s, Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)