Farm groups and advocacy organizations filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission against Deere & Company over the right to repair their own equipment or have equipment repaired by independent mechanics March 3.
In the complaint, the groups said the company “has deliberately restricted access to diagnostic software and other information needed to repair Deere equipment.” They said Deere’s practices violate federal antitrust and consumer protection laws, and asked the commission to investigate those repair restrictions.
The trade commission said in 2021 it would ramp up enforcement against illegal repair restrictions. If the trade commission investigates and finds that Deere’s repair restrictions violate antitrust and consumer protection laws, it could take action against Deere.
“Manufacturers have far too much control over what farmers are allowed to do with their own equipment,” said Rob Larew, president of the National Farmers Union, in a March 3 press release. “The Federal Trade Commission should take action to ensure that farmers and independent mechanics have the freedom to fix their equipment in a timely and cost-effective way.”
Right to repair
The right to repair has become more of an issue in farming as agriculture equipment becomes more technologically advanced.
Equipment manufacturers say farmers have what they need to repair equipment in most cases. They also cite concerns about intellectual property and about people tampering with software in ways that could make equipment unsafe.
Farmers, however, say they often don’t have access to software tools they need to make repairs or diagnose issues, and are sometimes forced to take equipment back to dealers for repairs.
Deere is estimated to hold more than 50% of the U.S. market share for large tractors and combines, the complaint says. And large ag equipment can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. That means the stakes are high for farmers who buy that equipment.
The complaint was submitted by Fairmark Partners, LLP, on behalf of Farm Action, the National Farmers Union, Ohio Farmers Union and multiple other state farmers unions, the Digital Right to Repair Coalition and several other groups that advocate against repair restrictions.
The complaint states in many cases, when a machine stops working, farmers can’t repair it or, sometimes, even tell what the issue is, without software that Deere only gives its authorized technicians.
It says this harms farmers both because they then have to pay whatever the Deere-authorized technician charges, and because there are sometimes long wait times and travel times to get equipment in to those technicians — which can be a huge issue during harvest season.
“John Deere found out that by controlling the who, what, where and when of tractor repair, they can squeeze more profit out of farmers than they can with new equipment sales,” said Joe Maxwell, president of Farm Action, in a March 3 press release. “Farmers … can lose tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars when a tractor sits useless in a field at harvest time.”
In an emailed statement to Farm and Dairy, Deere said it supports customers’ rights to safely maintain, diagnose and repair their own equipment, and already offers some tools to help farmers maintain and repair equipment.
“John Deere does not support the right to modify embedded software due to the risks association with safe operation of equipment, emissions compliance and engine performance,” the statement read.
The complaint alleges, however, that the company has not lived up to its statements about supporting customers’ rights to repair their equipment.
“Deere has made additional diagnostic tools available only through dealerships that often resist selling the tools and only when farmers pay a separate, costly fee; even then, Deere withholds many of the most crucial tools required to implement key repairs, such as even simply replacing certain necessary parts,” the complaint reads.
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