By Michele F. Mihaljevich
MOLINE, Ill. – An agreement between John Deere and the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) that allows farmers and ranchers to repair their own farm equipment has met with mixed reaction from a right-to-repair advocate and an equipment dealers association.
The memorandum of understanding (MOU) formalizes farmers’ access to diagnostic and repair codes; operator, parts and service manuals; and product guides, AFBF said. It ensures farmers will be able to purchase diagnostic tools directly from John Deere and receive assistance from the company when ordering parts and products, according to the organization.
The MOU sets parameters and creates a mechanism to address farmers’ concerns, AFBF said. As a part of the agreement, John Deere has committed to engaging with farmers and dealers to resolve issues when they arise, the farm bureau said.
The agreement was signed Jan. 8 during the AFBF convention in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
“(The agreement) addresses a long-running issue for farmers and ranchers when it comes to accessing tools, information and resources, while protecting John Deere’s intellectual property rights and ensuring equipment safety,” Zippy Duvall, AFBF president, explained in a release. “A piece of equipment is a major investment. Farmers must have the freedom to choose where equipment is repaired, or to repair it themselves, to help control costs.”
David Gilmore, John Deere senior vice president of ag & turf sales and marketing, said in a release the company looks forward to working with AFBF to ensure farmers continue to have the tools and resources to diagnose, maintain and repair their equipment.
“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,” he said.
While the MOU allows for repair of farm equipment it doesn’t allow for modification of any safety features or emissions controls. The agreement assures that Deere’s intellectual property, including copyrighted software, is “fully protected from illegal infringement through the modification of embedded software.” It also assures “that compliance with federal and state emissions control requirements is not compromised through changes to power ratings or other modification of control measures installed for the purpose of complying with the Clean Air Act and other environmental laws and regulations.”
As a part of the agreement, AFBF agreed to encourage state farm bureau organizations to “refrain from introducing, promoting or supporting federal or state ‘Right to Repair’ legislation that imposes obligations beyond the commitments” in the MOU. If state or federal legislation or regulation relating to issues covered by the MOU is enacted, AFBF and Deere have the right to withdraw from the MOU within 15 days.
The agreement calls for AFBF and Deere officials to meet twice a year to evaluate progress.
With the potential for legislation in some states, Deere officials realized they might have to operate under several different sets of rules, said Randy Kron, Indiana Farm Bureau president.
“(The MOU) means one set of rules across the whole country,” he told Farm World. “I think (the MOU) simplified things for them.”
The agreement is good for Hoosier farmers and agriculture nationwide, Kron noted. “It can bring a little competition to the repair side. Think about your car – you can take it back to the dealership or you can take it to a local car repair shop. Farmers couldn’t do that. This opens the door for more competition and maybe will keep prices a little bit lower. It’s a game changer for a lot of farmers and small independent mechanic shops.”
If Deere fails to follow the agreement, farm bureau officials will have the option to turn to state legislators for a fix, he said. “As long as John Deere upholds their end, we’ll tell legislators they are living up to the agreement. But if they don’t, (going to the legislature) is always in farm bureau’s back pocket. That’s the hammer. We could go back to legislators and tell them we have this agreement and Deere didn’t live up to it.”
Kron said he’s cautiously optimistic that other equipment manufacturers will want to work out a similar agreement.
Gay Gordon-Byrne, executive director of The Repair Association, said in 2023, more than 20 states may introduce right-to-repair legislation, though not all of those bills will include agriculture.
She said with the MOU, Deere officials are trying to stall potential legislation regarding the company’s repair policy.
“I would do the same thing in their place,” she told Farm World. “I don’t know why they bothered (with the agreement). They’re saying they agree with everything that legislation would require but we don’t want legislation. They’re saying we’re going to do all these things but what if they don’t. There are no consequences.”
Gordon-Byrne said there’s no downside for the manufacturer in the MOU. “They get credit for making a deal and they don’t have to do anything. For the purposes of the farmer, this makes no sense. They don’t get what they need. There’s a big fight that’s still out there.”
In a release, Kim Rominger, CEO of the North American Equipment Dealers Association (NAEDA), said, “This is a positive step in the right direction. NAEDA will be working to learn more about how the MOU will affect dealers and state legislation going forward and will continue to keep dealers informed.”
The purpose of the agreement is to provide a private sector solution to right to repair rather than a legislative or regulatory mandate, NAEDA said. The MOU says that parts, tools, documentation and diagnostics will be made available on fair and reasonable terms, which the agreement defines as the manufacturer’s suggested retail price and distribution model of any respective item, the organization noted. The agreement is not a departure from the current supply chain model and reflects the existing state of market availability and pricing, NAEDA pointed out.
Multiple lawsuits were filed against John Deere last year by growers in regard to the company’s repair policy, according to media reports. In October 2022, nine growers filed a consolidated class action suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. In the suit, the plaintiffs said because of Deere’s refusal to provide access to repair tools, “farmers are forced to use Deere-affiliated dealerships for repair services when they would otherwise fix the (equipment) themselves or utilize the services of a lower-cost and/or more convenient independent mechanic.”
The suit alleges that Deere uses its monopoly power over company repair tools to “gain or attempt to gain or maintain monopoly power in the Deere repair services market, specifically, by tying purchases of Deere (equipment) to Deere-provided repair services through deliberate restriction of access to the full spectrum of repair tools necessary to run diagnostics, approve repairs and perform maintenance.”