What made John Deere change its tune on Right to Repair?

Deere now pinky swears to give farmers repair rights, a concession to growing pressure from the Right to Repair movement.

Six right to repair advocates holding signs that say
Willie Cade | TPIN
Advocates from NCPIRG, Repair.org and local farmers testified at a hearing on agricultural Right to Repair in North Carolina.

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PIRG Right to Repair Campaign Director speaks at a podium in front of a National Farmers Union backdrop.
Kevin O'Reilly

Former Director, Campaign for the Right to Repair, PIRG

UPDATE: Our continued push for legislation is closing in on a victory. The Colorado Senate passed the Consumer Right to Repair Agricultural Equipment Act on March 16, leaving the bill a series of procedural votes away from Colorado Governor Jared Polis’ desk. Read more.

Given its track record on the Right to Repair, it’s a pretty safe bet that John Deere really didn’t want to change how it approaches the repair of its products. But now, you can add Deere — the largest farm equipment maker in the world — to the list of companies forced to correct its course by the Right to Repair movement. 

The Right to Repair memorandum of understanding (MOU) that Deere signed on Jan. 8 with the American Farm Bureau Federation is proof that the company has been pushed to change its original stance. It’s a testament to the work we’ve done with farmers and key allies including Repair.org, National Farmers Union and iFixit. 

But, because the MOU lacks the force of law, contains significant loopholes and allows Deere to walk away from the agreement with 30 days’ notice, the agreement is not an outright victory for farmers’ right to repair. We need to pass Right to Repair legislation before we pop the champagne. That’ll happen when farmers have fair access to all of the repair materials necessary to fix 100% of their equipment. 

UPDATE: Tractor-maker Case New Holland signed an MOU that is nearly identical to Deere’s on March 9. We explained why the additional agreement did not change the need for legislation.

Deere’s Right to Repair concession provides a model for taking on Goliath

There’s work left to do, but hitting such a significant milestone with Deere has led me to reflect on what we’ve done right to get to this point. I’d argue that we’ve been effective in three pursuits — finding and exposing the facts about obstacles to repair; organizing farmers and sharing their stories; and bringing public support into the halls of power— that helped us pressure Deere to act. We’ll need to replicate and build on that success to ultimately get farmers the repair relief they deserve.

In other words, here’s our guide to taking on Goliath.

Find and expose the facts

In essentially every state where there has been an agricultural Right to Repair bill, there has been a manufacturers’ or dealers’ representative there to testify that there is no problem that needs to be solved. For a long time, they pointed to a 2018 agreement, which included promises to provide certain (but not comprehensive) diagnostic tools, as the panacea to all farmers’ fixing woes.

By working with farmers and partners from our coalition, I was able to write a report outlining how modern farm equipment is engineered to restrict independent repair and how the industry promise was going to come up short. By working with reporters at VICE who have long been on the Right to Repair beat, we were able to expose how manufacturers had failed to meet their commitment. We have the receipts to show the truth of the matter, which no doubt played a role in the Deere MOU’s inclusion of necessary tools, such as those required to reset the immobilizer and security locks in the course of repair, that were explicitly excluded from the 2018 agreement.

You can bet that we’ll keep working with our allies at National Farmers Union and Repair.org to figure out exactly what farmers can and can’t do with the new materials Deere is promising — or raise the alarm if the promised materials don’t show up at all. 

UPDATE: Along with our partners at Repair.org, we discovered that the materials promised by Deere’s MOU are not comprehensive, meaning that farmers still have to rely on the dealer for many repairs. Read more.

Organize those affected and share stories of the difficulties they face

Nailing the facts is a fundamental piece of any campaign, but without stories to humanize the problem, you’re going to have trouble persuading people that your solution is needed. I’ve been incredibly lucky to work with courageous farmers such as Jared Wilson, Walter Schweitzer and Scott Potmesil, whose stories have been critical to our ability to show the ridiculous and real consequences that repair restrictions cause. 

The story of farmer-slash-Right-to-Repair-legislative-champion Barry Hovis even helped us reach the readers — and writers — of the Wall Street Journal. Shortly after the WSJ published my op-ed detailing Missouri state Rep. Hovis’ encounters with repair restrictions, one of the WSJ’s regular columnists cited my piece in arguing, “So you own a Deere tractor until it breaks?…It’s mine. Let me do what I want with it.”


Farmers’ stories have also provided opportunities for further fact-finding. Numerous farmers told us how a wave of dealership consolidation in recent years was further reducing their repair choices, forcing them to spend hours driving to distant shops. Those complaints were the seed of a report in which we found that there is one John Deere dealership chain for every 12,018 farms and every 5.3 million acres of American farmland. The stories of farmers such as Wyatt Parks and Ken Helt laid bare what a hardship that is.

Find the facts. Tell powerful stories of those affected. Rinse. Repeat.

Take public support into the halls of power

I believe that through our work to expose the facts and elevate farmers’ stories, we help build and deepen support for an issue already popular among Americans of all political stripes. But this work and the work of our allies definitely won over decision-makers in DC and statehouses across the country. 

Champions including Missouri Rep. Barry Hovis, Nebraska Sen. Tom Brandt and Montana Rep. Katie Sullivan have led the push for Right to Repair reforms in their home states. In the U.S. Senate, Sen. Jon Tester (MT), another farmer-legislator, has championed the issue. Even President Joe Biden’s executive order to increase competition across the country called for an end to repair restrictions, “such as the restrictions imposed by powerful manufacturers that prevent farmers from repairing their own equipment.”

An advocate holds a green and yellow sign that says
Michael Lim | TPIN
PIRG, Repair.org and iFixit delivered 10,130 petitions to the EPA office in Chicago last December.

We’ve worked to support these bills through our organizing and advocacy, while also looking for other avenues to apply pressure. That’s why we filed a Federal Trade Commission complaint with other farmer and repair advocates, pushed for change inside John Deere through a shareholder complaint and called for the Environmental Protection Agency to investigate Deere’s repair restrictions after Repair.org board member Willie Cade’s research found that the company appears to violate the Clean Air Act.

Next up: Legislation

Ultimately, John Deere could not ignore all this pressure. It’s important that we acknowledge what we’ve achieved to energize us for what comes next.

By committing to provide farmers with tools they withheld in the past, Deere has more or less acknowledged they have been restricting farmers from making necessary repairs. But a pinky swear to stop blocking independent repair is not going to allow farmers to sleep easy if weather threatens their crop. It sure as heck won’t hold up in court.

Luckily, we know what to do to finish the job: Get the facts, organize the people impacted, make the case to people who can fix the problem — and keep going until we win.


Kevin O'Reilly

Former Director, Campaign for the Right to Repair, PIRG