Deere Responds to Right-to-Repair Suits, Farmers Continue Pressure

Deere & Co. has asked a federal court to transfer a collection of right-to-repair lawsuits against it to Illinois.

The first case was filed in Illinois by a farm based in North Dakota. Since then, similar lawsuits have been filed in Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Alabama, as well as two additional cases in the U.S. District Court for the District of Northern Illinois, DTN recently reported.

The cases allege the company has monopolized the repair service market for Deere equipment with onboard central computers known as engine control units, or ECUs. The suits seek damages for farmers who paid for repairs from Deere dealers beginning on Jan. 12, 2018, to the present, DTN reported.

Deere’s motion seeking the transfer of these cases does not include a class-
action suit filed in Minnesota, according to DTN.

In related news, several farmer organizations from throughout the U.S. recently filed a 42-page complaint with the Federal Trade Commission against Deere, claiming the tractor maker has violated federal anti-trust and consumer protection laws.

The National Farmers Union and other state and national organizations argued that Deere is profiting by requiring special parts and Deere-approved technicians to repair their machines, reported KWQC.

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund and the Right-to-Repair campaign also recently released a report that took aim at Deere and other major manufacturers for making it increasingly difficult for farmers to fix their own equipment.

The report analyzed the number and location of agriculture equipment dealership chains from John Deere, Case IH, AGCO and Kubota to see how dealership consolidation affects farmers’ access to different dealers. It found that dealership consolidation, which Deere has pursued more aggressively than its peers, restricts farmers’ options. That, paired repair limitations, poses significant challenges to farmers’ ability to keep equipment in the field and operating, the Herald & Review reported.

The newspaper reported that 82 percent of Deere’s 1,357 dealerships are part of a large chain, which include seven or more locations. In Illinois, where the Herald & Review is based, the paper reported there is roughly one dealership chain for every 6,000 farms, with farmers often traveling far to find a different dealer if they want a second opinion or a better price, according to information provided by the consumer advocacy report.

Deere shareholders asked executives during a recent meeting how the company plans to address these challenges.

CEO John May said Deere “supports a customer’s right to safely maintain,” diagnose and repair Deere’s fleet of increasingly technologically advanced and connected equipment.

“However, we do not support the right to modify embedded software,” May said. “So we’re going to do everything we can to provide the tools, information and manuals needed for our customers to work on their machines,” the Herald & Review reported.

Deere’s Director of Strategic Public Relations Jennifer Hartmann said the company offers parts, tools and information guides in different forms, along with remote access for technicians and systems that can alert customers of issues.

“John Deere does not support the right to modify embedded software due to the risks associated with the safe operation of equipment, emissions compliance and engine performance,” Hartmann said. “We remain committed to providing innovative solutions that support our customers’ needs.”

Sources: KWQC, DTN, Herald & Review