Deere Hedges Bets on Repair with New Agreement

Deere Hedges Bets on Repair with New Agreement

Roundup Week of January 16

Every week there are too many developments in the world of repair for any mere mortal to keep track of; fortunately, the authors of the Fight to Repair newsletter, including Jack Monahan, are no mere mortals, at least when it comes to recapping the most important repair news. Each week, they highlight the biggest and most important repair story you need to know about.

Please Hold Your Applause…

“US Farmers Win Right to Repair John Deere Equipment.” -BBC

This was the headline from the BBC in response to John Deere signing a memorandum of understanding with the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) to allow farmers to repair their tractors.

The BBC wasn’t alone in its sunny take. Many other headlines were quick to assert that a right to repair was achieved in the landmark decision. However, the reality of the situation is far murkier.

On Wisconsin Public Radio, Julie Keown-Bomar, executive director of the Wisconsin Farmers Union, had a more sober take on the situation:

“This [agreement] is an effort really on behalf of the leadership of American Farm Bureau and John Deere to, in a sense, cut their own agreement and be able to make some progress hopefully,” she said. “But at the same time, I mean, it’s left to see whether or not John Deere will comply with what was signed in their memorandum agreement, and actually really, truly open up the opportunity for independent shops and farmers to get the software and things that they need.”

Another less generous read of Deere’s behavior came from Elizabeth Chamberlain, Director of Sustainability at iFixit:

“Somewhat surprisingly, the national Farm Bureau only negotiated this agreement with John Deere. The manufacturer coalition opposing Right to Repair includes Case, New Holland, Kubota, and others. This anti-repair video put out by the Association of Equipment Manufacturers clearly features equipment from a number of manufacturers. Repairs are increasingly a problem in all computerized equipment, and while Deere has been the most notorious example, farmers have difficulty getting repair software across the board.”

The National Farmers Union has joined the chorus to criticize the agreement, stating that it does not solve the problem of farmers having to get their equipment fixed by the manufacturer’s dealers at high prices.

So how does this agreement let Deere control repair? The major critique of the MOU is the vague nature of the document—and the lack of any enforcement mechanism to hold Deere to its word. The lack of specificity and teeth in the agreement give Deere many avenues to avoid allowing a true right to repair their equipment.

Passive Resistance to Repair

The timing of this agreement actually tells us a lot. Most state legislatures are beginning their sessions in January. Missouri, Texas, and Colorado have already had right to repair bills for agricultural equipment introduced. Deere’s MOU may be a tool for waving legislators away from agricultural right to repair bills and muzzling state farmers’ unions, which have been key sources of support for state-level right to repair bills.

The agreement states that the Farm Bureau will:

“refrain from introducing, promoting, or supporting federal or state ‘Right to Repair’ legislation that imposes obligations beyond the commitments in this MOU.”

With state and federal legislation on agricultural repair piling up, it is likely that Deere is attempting to get ahead of legislation and dictate repair on their terms. Given the successes in Colorado on powered wheelchair repair and New York’s electronics repair law in 2022, the MOU may be nothing more than Deere “reading the room.”

Lots of farmers prefer old Deere equipment that isn’t computerized, like this one. Repair is an inevitability on the farm. Photo via Dwight Sipler (CC, Flickr), who says, “It’s really annoying when you’re tooling around on the tractor and the front wheel falls off.”

Deere’s Track Record Speaks for Itself

For those hoping that Deere has turned a page with its new MOU, recent history shouldn’t give them cause for optimism. Today, farmers are seeking out and purchasing 40+ year old tractors to free themselves from Deere’s Orwellian ecosystem of software and services. Farmers in a number of states have filed a class action lawsuit for the company’s consolidation of agricultural repair markets. And the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is conducting an investigation following a complaint from yet another farmer.

If followed in good faith, the MOU could set the stage for the agricultural giant to single-handedly extend a right to repair for all of its customers. But the vague nature of the MOU leaves room for Deere to get off scot-free without meaningfully changing the status quo for farmers.

Other News

  • Flaws of lightning-fast product cycles: While companies promote the “innovations” they make to new electronics every year, the Washington Post reports there are serious drawbacks to the security of internet-connected devices.
    • The current incentives in place for companies are “really focused on cost, capability, performance and speed to market, and not on basic safety,” according to Jen Easterly, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA)
  • Anti-trust desperately needed in tech: Alex Wilhelm discusses the importance of anti-trust in times of unprecedented market consolidation in the tech industry—with publicly funded companies needing to keep constant growth for investors at all costs, even when they have socially negative effects.
  • Maine’s referendum on auto repair: The state of Maine is preparing for a number of public votes—including an automotive right to repair. The current nationwide agreement has loopholes for cars run by software, but proponents hope to expand the ability for individuals and independent repair shops to bypass software locks.
  • Get ready: “The Massachusetts campaign finance website shows a collective $51.6 million on the referendum in 2020,” the Maine Monitor reports, and Maine could see a similar flood of election spending.
  • Repair and reuse first, recycle second: This featured episode on TED Radio Hour discusses the need for the environmental movement to emphasize reuse and repair instead of immediately opting to recycle.