Like many parts of modern life, tractors have gone high-tech, often running on advanced computer systems. But some manufacturers are tight-lipped about how these electronics work, making it difficult or nearly impossible for farmers and independent repair shops to diagnose and fix problems with the equipment.
U.S farmers will now have the right to repair tractors and other agricultural equipment from John Deere without having to use the manufacturer’s own parts and facilities, under an agreement the company signed Sunday with farm industry representatives.
The agreement marks a major victory for farmer and consumer advocacy groups, who have complained for years about the repair limitations Deere has imposed on its products and technology, from software locks to requirements to use official dealers for repairs. The restrictions have inspired multiple lawsuits against the company and created a high-profile public relations headache in which farmers have accused Deere of interfering with their ability to plant and harvest crops on a timely basis.
The memorandum of understanding with the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) gives farmers access to the same Deere documentation, data, and diagnostic tools used by the company’s authorized repair shops. Farmers will be able to diagnose and fix broken down equipment on their own or by choosing an independent repair facility, which will also have access to the proprietary tools and data on the same fair and reasonable terms, according to the 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,” AFBF President Vincent Duvall said. “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.”
Deere SVP David Gilmore adds, “This agreement reaffirms the longstanding commitment Deere has made to ensure our customers have the diagnostic tools and information they need to make many repairs to their machines. We look forward to working alongside the American Farm Bureau and our customers in the months and years ahead to ensure farmers continue to have the tools and resources to diagnose, maintain and repair their equipment.”
In exchange, AFBF officials agreed not to push for state or federal legislation promoting users’ right to repair products they’ve leased or purchased. Under the MOU, farmers and third-party repair shops may not disable on-board safety features or use their access to Deere’s technology to illegally copy the software controlling their equipment.
The voluntary deal safeguards Deere’s intellectual property while giving farmers more control of their own business, said Zippy Duvall, president of AFBF.
“A piece of equipment is a major investment,” Duvall said in a statement. “Farmers must have the freedom to choose where equipment is repaired, or to repair it themselves, to help control costs.”
The issue has won the attention of the Biden administration: In 2021, a White House executive order called on the Federal Trade Commission to develop new rules to promote the right to repair. In response, the FTC vowed to “root out” illegal repair restrictions. Months later, Apple announced a self-service repair program allowing users to fix their own iPhones and Macs using Apple-made tools and parts.
Last month, New York became the first US state to enact a right-to-repair law. Since 2000, US lawmakers have introduced more than a dozen bills dealing with the right to repair, focusing on automobiles, farm equipment, and repairs of medical devices during the Covid-19 pandemic.
With Sunday’s MOU, however, the tension between farmers and Deere has been resolved without the need for regulation or legislation, the agreement said.