Farm equipment manufacturer John Deere has been on the front lines of the fight against right-to-repair legislation, insisting that farmers who purchase its machinery go through its approved diagnostic and repair partners. Farmers have been ratcheting up pressure on the company to change its ways, and John Deere has just agreed to some major concessions. For the first time, it will provide the tools needed to service its sophisticated modern tractors to farmers and independent repair facilities. However, John Deere isn’t just doing this to be cool — its back was against the wall.
John Deere has come to terms with the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), signing a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that details how the company will handle service and support going forward. Finally, farmers will get access to the diagnostic tools they need to make repairs to the equipment they’ve already purchased. John Deere authorized service is notoriously expensive — this change could mean huge savings when equipment fails.
Tractors have a reputation for being big clunky machines, but modern farm equipment is brimming with sophisticated electronics and embedded software. John Deere became an object of scorn among farmers in 2016 when it updated its end-user agreement. Despite some pieces of equipment retailing for hundreds of thousands of dollars, John Deere wanted to treat that purchase like a license that could be revoked. Among other restrictions, the company forced farmers to use only John Deere repair and service, and it refused to provide access to the embedded software needed for people to make their own repairs. It claimed this was for farmers’ own good because otherwise, they could override safety measures or bypass emissions standards.
The tide has started to turn in favor of the right to repair. New York recently passed a well-meaning but somewhat flawed right-to-repair law, and the federal government has taken a special interest in the plight of farmers. In 2021, the Biden administration instructed the Federal Trade Commission to develop rules that prevent farm equipment manufacturers from monopolizing repairs.
John Deere saw the writing on the wall — entering into the MOU with farmers now lets it retain a modicum of control, which it might not have if it continued to oppose reforms. For example, the MOU stipulates that farmers and technicians will not infringe on the software copyright or disclose John Deere IP in any way. In return, the company will offer manuals, diagnostic tools, and training under “fair and reasonable terms.” John Deere and the AFBF will continue to meet on a regular basis and will amend the agreement if necessary. Hopefully, this one holds up better than the 2018 agreement.
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