Farmers Union Files Complaint with FTC Over Right to Repair

by Colter Brown

Groups like the National Farmers Union and other right-to-repair advocates filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission against John Deere over the right to repair its equipment.

The FTC complaint was filed by the National Farmers Union, as well as state NFUs in Iowa, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Wisconsin, along with Farm Action, U.S. Public Interest Research Group, Illinois Public Interest Research Group, Digital Right to Repair Coalition and iFixit.

The complaint alleges that the tractor manufacturer makes its product difficult or impossible to repair unless taken to a Deere dealer. The groups said Deere’s practice “constitutes an unfair and deceptive trade practice” and they ask the FTC to enjoin Deere from continuing the practice.

The complaint also alleges Deere has violated the Sherman Act by making pronouncements about providing diagnostic equipment to farmers and then not delivering.

“Deere usually outcompetes rivals to win farmers’ and ranchers’ business but has recently begun to leverage its monopoly power in the market to dominate the repair market for its equipment,” the complaint says. “The company has made it impossible for farmers to make important repairs themselves or go to an independent repair shop.”

Vice Dot Com says this is an issue impacting a lot of farmers as Deere makes more than 50 percent of tractor sales in the U.S. The complaint says farmers have no real choice about where to get repairs.

In 2018, when many state legislatures were considering ‘right-to-repair’ legislation, Deere issued a “statement of principles” promising that by Jan. 1, 2021, Deere would “make available through authorized dealers (tools) to empower farmers and ranchers” to perform basic service, maintenance and to make repairs on their equipment.

“The associations said that their taking this action would “strike the right balance in the way ‘right-to-repair’ legislation would not,” the complaint said.

“With 2021 having come and gone, neither the associations nor Deere has lived up to these representations. Deere has made additional diagnostic tools available only through dealerships that often resist selling the tools and only when farmers pay a separate, costly fee; even then, Deere withholds many of the most crucial tools required to implement key repairs, such as even simply replacing certain necessary parts.

In January, Forest River Farms in North Dakota filed the first class-action suit against Deere, alleging the company has monopolized the repair service market for John Deere brand agricultural equipment with onboard central computers known as engine control units, or ECUs.

Now, farmers and other business owners have filed similar lawsuits in Tennessee, Oklahoma and Alabama, as well as two additional cases in the U.S. District Court for the District of Northern Illinois. All the cases alleged the company violated the Sherman Act and seek damages for farmers who paid for repairs from John Deere dealers beginning on Jan. 12, 2018, to the present. In a motion filed by John Deere in the Illinois court, the company asked all cases to be transferred.

In 1996, John Deere had about 3,400 dealerships. By 2007, the number decreased to 2,984, according to the lawsuits. By 2021, just 1,544 dealership locations remained.




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