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Farm Bureau, John Deere work out issues with Right to Repair

Repairing equipment is what farmers do but their hands have been tied by some manufacturer’s decisions. A recent agreement puts needed tech tools back in the hands of some of those who turn the wrenches out in the field.

A memorandum of understanding between John Deere and the American Farm Bureau to allow producers the ability to fix their own equipment, was signed at a news conference in Puerto Rico shortly before the beginning of the Farm Bureau convention. As vice-president of the American Farm Bureau and president of the South Dakota Farm Bureau, Scott VanderWal of Volga was there.

“The Memorandum of Understanding will ensure farmers’ and ranchers’ right to repair their tractors and other implements,” VanderWal said. “The signing of this MOU has been a three-year process of discussions with John Deere. Farmers are really excited to have this process wrapped up and the Right to Repair in place.”



VanderWal said the national staff began to work with John Deere after Farm Bureau members from all across the country requested that they find a solution to this growing problem. “We are very proud that we were able to facilitate this effort. The entire goal was to work directly with John Deere to get it worked out and to keep the government out of it. This solution avoided any government regulatory or legislative action. We believe they wanted to avoid government intervention as well.”

The manufacturers were concerned about proprietary knowledge, cybersecurity, and safety.



VanderWal said this agreement gives access to software and tech manuals at a reasonable and fair price so farmers and repair technicians can download diagnostic tools. There are still some things it doesn’t give you access to. It continues to protect the manufacturer by prohibiting the farmer from making modifications to equipment, such as turning up the injector pump  or other actions that would void the warranty.

“Through this MOU, farmers, ranchers, and independent repair facilities will have access to diagnostic and repair codes and their meanings; manuals (operator, parts, service); product guides; directly purchase diagnostic tools from John Deere; and help from John Deere when ordering parts and products.”

VanderWal said, “What this means is that if you get an error code, the individual who has purchased the manuals and technology can plug their computer into the equipment to see where the error is. If it’s a bad sensor, then they can get the part and install it. It’s a two-prong savings — down time in the field and the expense of having to hire someone else to fix it. In rural states like South Dakota, you sometimes wait two to four days for a tech to get there. Many repairs happen at crucial times when farmers are planting or harvesting when they are up against the clock.”

As the threat that the weather will turn nasty is always a factor, farmers get pretty excited when they have a breakdown when running their planter or when combines are rolling.

“We’ve experienced a combine sitting in the field in good weather because of a breakdown. That’s frustrating. When that happens, time and productivity slip away.”

VanderWal heard stories of an instance where a farmer’s machine shut down during harvest. Since the farmer couldn’t access the diagnostic port, he didn’t know it was a bad sensor which he could replace for $50 to $200. He spent hours waiting to find out the issue was a minor one.

As a third-generation family farmer, VanderWal and his family raise corn and soybeans and do custom cattle-feeding and some custom harvesting. “Personally, we’ve experienced getting an error code. This was on a 2005 vintage machine. Once we knew what it was and what needed to be done, we knew we had to get someone with a higher level of expertise, so we contacted the dealership to get the help we needed. As technology changes, it’s going to be even more important for this change to be in place.”

This MOU is like ones used in the automobile industry. Vehicle owners and independent technicians can purchase information, diagnostic equipment, and parts needed for vehicle repairs from vehicle manufacturers.

With the consolidation of farm equipment stores, many farmers and ranchers are hours away from dealerships. That’s a problem, too.

Scott VanderWal | Courtesy photo
Scott VanderWal | Courtesy photo

VanderWal said the next step is to work with other equipment manufacturers on an agreement as well. “Right to Repair affects anything that has electronic controllers and needs a diagnostic tool to work on it.”

For those with green equipment, “The MOU is in effect now and John Deere is working to make sure their staff knows how to handle requests. That should all be in place fairly soon, definitely by the time of spring work. In some places, John Deere is already making these tools available.”

“We are satisfied with this MOU,” VanderWal said. “This is where we need to be. We will meet twice a year with John Deere to analyze how things are going. This creates a mechanism to resolve issues in the future. If issues do arise, it’s in the best interest of both sides to make sure customers are happy.”

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