John Deere & Co., the world’s largest manufacturer of agricultural equipment, may finally allow American farmers to repair the company’s products on their own.
A pioneer of integrating advanced computer systems into farming machinery, John Deere controls more than half of the tractor market in the United States. As John Deere machines became increasingly high-tech over recent years, however, many American farmers complain that they have to travel farther and pay more at designated locations to get them fixed.
A memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed on Jan. 8 between John Deere and the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) will hopefully bring some change. In the private agreement, the Illinois-based farming equipment giant said it will commit to provide individual farmers and independent repair shops with the information they need to diagnose, maintain, and repair the company’s smart tractors.
Specifically, John Deere said equipment owners and independent mechanics will be able to buy access to software, electronic manuals, product service demonstrations, on-board diagnostics, and other publications related to service, parts, operation, and safety.
The price tags for those diagnostic tools vary. According to the company’s website, a one-year license for a technical manual can cost as much as $3,160.
With that said, John Deere also affirmed that it won’t “divulge trade secrets, proprietary or confidential information” or allow anyone to “override safety features or emissions controls or to adjust agricultural equipment power levels.”
The AFBF, a Washington D.C.-based lobbying group, also agreed to encourage state farm bureaus to “refrain from introducing, promoting, or supporting federal or state ‘Right to Repair’ legislation that imposes obligations beyond the commitments in this MOU.”
“This is an issue that has been a priority for us for several years and has taken a lot of work to get to this point,” said AFBF president Vincent Duvall in a press release.
“And as you use equipment, we all know at some point in time there’s going to be problems with it. And we did have problems with having the opportunity to repair our equipment where we wanted to, or even repair it on the farm.”
Montana Farmers Union, one of many groups that support the “Right to Repair” movement in the United States, took issue with the fact that this is a voluntary private agreement that lacks enforcement.
“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?” Walter Schweitzer, president of the Montana Farmers Union, asked in an interview with NPR.
Schweitzer, who runs a family-owned farm in Geyser, an unincorporated community in central Montana, said in 2020 that a problem with his John Deere tractor would cost him to $30,000 to fix.
“My old tractor, I have service manuals that if it breaks down I can finger through those service manuals and I can troubleshoot and I can fix it, but with this tractor, I need the software,” he told KULR-8 News. “If I don’t have the software, there’s nothing I can do. And that’s wrong.”