Farmers across the US have long wanted the right to fix their own tractors. And in March, John Deere—which controls 50 percent of the tractor and combine trade in North America— announced it would give it to them. Kind of.
Farmers’ fight to fix their own machinery or be able to take it to repair shops independent from equipment manufacturers, dubbed the “right to repair” movement, is in reaction to the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act that made it a violation for farmers to repair tractors themselves.
Starting next year, Deere will offer farmers “self-repair solutions” for their machines, but it comes with a cost. The company’s new initiative will allow tractor owners to purchase software that can clear and refresh codes as well as perform diagnostic readings on the machines. The programming, called Customer Service ADVISOR, will start at $1,200 but may be more expensive depending on the machine type. It will be available to purchase starting in May.
Even with the steep price tag, the software still only enables limited calibrations and is not the same software to which a certified Deere technician has access.
Why not give farmers and independent technicians a full ride to repair the machines?
Well, Deere holds that the complex nature of new machines—with internet connections, computers and hundreds of sensors—makes them a danger if they aren’t programmed correctly. In fact, during an interview with the tech news website the Verge, John Deere’s chief technology officer Jahmy Hindman said he worried that users could accidentally lose control of their machines if they make certain changes to their software.<
The recent move to give farmers more autonomy to update and fix their own machines comes after immense pressure on the company.
On March 3, the National Farmers Commission filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission that says Deere & Co. is using its power to continue to monopolize the repair market for the machines
In the complaint, farmers spell out just how large the issue is, highlighting that malfunctioning machines will go into “limp” mode—rendering them unusable without the help of a specialized Deere technician and Deere-owned software—costing farmers precious days and dollars while they are forced to wait for the repairs.
In response to farmers’ outcries, Montana senator John Tester sponsored a bill in February that would require manufacturers of the equipment to provide repair software to farmers. The bill follows a move by President Biden last July, when he signed an executive order that urged the Federal Trade Commission to reconfigure the current laws and reduce machine repair restrictions.
But the limited software Deere will now offer seems like only a small first step, giving farmers an inch when they want to take their own tractors the whole mile.