Farmers Can Now Repair Their Own John Deere Tractors

A new Memorandum of Understanding opens up access to crucial diagnostic tools, parts, and manuals.

John Deere dealership

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On January 8, the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) and John Deere signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that will give American farmers the right to repair their own John Deere machinery. This is an agreement that's been a long time coming and is the result of many years of lobbying for change. 

Prior to this, farmers were forced to rely on authorized John Deere dealerships and technicians to fix any problems that arose with tractors, combines, and other heavy equipment—a requirement that prolonged repair times (often at crucial harvest times) and significantly increased the cost. Farmers were barred access to parts and software codes, despite owning their (very expensive) machines. Extensive recent consolidation means that there's only one John Deere dealership chain for every 5.3 million acres of farmland and 12,018 farms in the U.S., forcing farmers to travel long distances to seek repairs.

Now, thanks to the MOU, any farmer or independent repair facility can do the job, diagnosing problems and accessing tools, information, and resources in a way that, according to AFBF president Zippy Duvall, still protects the company's intellectual property rights and ensures equipment safety. It more closely resembles the way cars are repaired. You can take it to the dealer or an independent mechanic or do it yourself. The point is, it's now the customer's decision. 

The MOU is a private agreement between the manufacturer and customers that strives to address a problem without state or federal legislation—which, despite its best intentions, is seen to create "a different set of problems or did not address agriculture," according to Sam Kieffer, vice president of public affairs for AFBF. In fact, the MOU goes so far as to say that the AFBF will agree to "refrain from introducing, promoting, or supporting federal or state 'Right to Repair' legislation that imposes obligations beyond the commitments in this MOU"—a stance that might prove contentious to some.

The MOU makes a distinction between the "right to repair" and modifying a piece of equipment. From Progressive Farmer: "Part of the marching orders in negotiating a policy with Deere was to focus on the right to repair but differentiate that issue from modifying a piece of equipment," since "AFBF supports intellectual property rights." The MOU will be revisited semiannually by both parties to assess its effectiveness.

The general attitude is celebratory. Duvall is quoted in, saying, "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. The MOU commits John Deere to ensuring farmers and independent repair facilities have access to many of the tools and software needed to grow the food, fuel and fiber America's families rely on."

A Pro-Repair Decision

This is a great step forward for the right-to-repair movement in general. We've written about this before on Treehugger, how ownership should include access to parts and information, and that things should be built for repairability, if for no other reason than it's far better for the planet. When repair options are complicated or difficult to access, depending on the value of the item, people will often give up, throw away, and replace.

I've called repair is a deeply environmental act. It prolongs an item's lifespan, reduces demand for new, conserves resources and save money. "It keeps items out of landfills, which decreases the risk of leaching chemicals and heavy metals, and spares developing nations from having to deal with a surplus of unwanted goods in unsafe conditions. It incentivizes quality production, decreases toxic mining, and creates jobs in independent repair shops."

Apple was lauded for lifting restrictions on repair back in 2021, when it released its Self-Service Repair program, with parts, tools, and manuals available for its phones and computers. Ideally these would be used by "individuals with the knowledge and experience to repair electronic devices," as these jobs are considered out-of-warranty, but I suspect that most people would not tackle such a job if they did not feel confident; nobody wants to mess up their iPhone! But the point is, people should be allowed to choose.

In this particular case with John Deere, the MOU allows farmers to do what they've always done, which is fix their own equipment at their own pace, in their home environment, which allows them to get on with the very important job of growing food for the rest of us.

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