Report: John Deere, other tractor manufacturers still holding back repair information

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Unsplash/Dan Loran

Thirteen months ago, we told you that Midwest farmers were ditching new, technologically advanced tractors in favor of old-school rigs that don’t require the high cost of paying a computer technician to fix whatever problems that might arise. Since farmers traditionally take pride in repairing things themselves, a trade group representing John Deere and other tractor and agricultural equipment manufacturers promised that it would “make repair tools, software, and diagnostics available to the masses” starting January 1, 2021.

It hasn’t.

If this sounds a lot like what led to the recent voter-approved (and still contested) Right to Repair Law in Massachusetts, it’s because they both deal with a consumer’s right to proprietary data.

John Deere Tractor with bushhog attachment on front loader
Unsplash/Clint Patterson

According to Motherboard /Vice writers Jason Koebler and Matthew Gault, the “statement of principles” that tractor manufacturers promised to uphold was “designed to address concerns from farmers that their tractors were becoming increasingly unrepairable due to pervasive software-based locks that artificially prevented them from fixing their equipment. As Motherboard repeatedly reported at the time, farmers were being forced to go to “authorized” John Deere dealerships and service centers to perform otherwise simple repairs that they could no longer do because they needed special software to unlock their equipment. To get around this, some farmers had begun “hacking” their tractors with software from Ukraine.

“A host of states were considering ‘right to repair’ legislation that would have compelled Deere and other manufacturers to abandon these artificial software locks, to make repair tools and guides available to the general public, and to, broadly speaking, allow farmers to fix the tractors they owned.”

John Deere Tractor heavy equipment wheels close
Unsplash/Robert Laursoo

To avoid that kind of legislation, John Deere, the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, and the Equipment Dealers Association announced their commitment to share the information. Now two months past the deadline—and 36 months after the farming community celebrated the “Memorandum of Understanding” as a “grand compromise”—Koebler and Gault say Deere and the other association members “lied.”

“It is now three years later. The agreement is supposed to be in effect. No right to repair legislation has been passed. Deere, the dealers, and the manufacturers got what they wanted. And, yet, farmers are still struggling to get anything promised in the agreement.”

According to Motherboard, it is still extremely difficult—if not impossible—for farmers to get diagnostic software, tools, or parts from dealers as was promised. Right to Repair advocate Kevin O’Reilly, posing as a customer, called 12 John Deere dealerships in six states and asked for the information and assistance that had been promised, but 11 of them told him they don’t sell diagnostic software, and the 12th shared an email address to ask for tools. Motherboard contacted nine dealerships as well, and all nine gave the same answer: Sorry, can’t help you.

John Deere Tractor fields aerial
Unsplash/Scott Ymker

Koebler and Gault received a different story from David Ward, a spokesperson for the Association of Equipment Manufacturers. “Equipment manufacturers support farmers’ right to repair their equipment,” Ward says. “Comprehensive repair and diagnostic information is now available for the vast majority of the tractor and combine market through authorized dealers. While we do not track it, specific information on pricing varies based on manufacturer.”

The writers followed up with an email asking Ward to provide “a single instance where this is actually the case, or a single manufacturer that explains to farmers where they can get this information or these tools.” They did not receive a reply. John Deere did not respond to a request for comment, either.

The right to repair showdown is far from over. Motherboard predicts that resolution will not come in the form of “a promise from manufacturers and dealers, but legislation with the force of law.”

Stay tuned.

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