Lack of repair options for Colorado farmers has Deere in the Headlights

Media Contacts
Allison Conwell

Farmers need software to fix their tractors–tools that manufacturers such as John Deere won’t provide

CoPIRG Foundation

CoPIRG Foundation, the Rocky Mountain Farmers’ Union, and Colorado farmers released Deere in the Headlights, a report revealing how difficult it is for farmers to get the tools they need to fix their equipment.

“It doesn’t matter how industrious farmers are—modern farming equipment is designed so that they need to call the dealership to repair their machines,” said Allison Conwell, CoPIRG Advocate.

Modern farm equipment, just like most modern technology, runs on software. But when manufacturers restrict access to the software tools needed to repair broken tractors, farmers are forced to rely on dealerships. That can lead to lengthy delays and inflated repair bills. With fields to be plowed, planted and harvested, farmers don’t have the time to wait for a dealer. They need to be able to fix their own stuff.

When farmers have to wait for the dealer to fix their equipment, a simple task can turn into a month-long wait.

“Farmers are industrious. Folks want to be able to work on their own equipment and have some of that freedom. Especially if they’re purchasing that equipment, they’d like to be able to have the access to be able to work on that,” said Dan Waldvogle, Director of External Affairs for the Rocky Mountain Farmers’ Union. 

In addition to not having access to software tools necessary for repair, farmers who have to rely on dealers to fix their equipment run into other issues like transporting their equipment from their field to the dealer and the additional costs that are associated with it.

“We’re a small farm. I don’t have any back-up gear. If something needs fixed, I don’t have something else to replace it with. So, it means we’re not getting work done,” added Kristin Ramey, who owns LongShadow Farm. “One of the issues we also have isn’t ‘Is the dealer going to fix this and how much will they charge us for it,’ it’s getting the equipment to the dealership. One of our tractors is bigger than our trailer can handle.” 

The Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM)—an industry group that includes John Deere, Kubota, Case, New Holland, and more—issued a statement of principles promising to provide on-board diagnostics and other repair information starting in 2021. But calls to local dealers have shown that diagnostic tools are rarely available for purchase.

“My colleague at U.S. PIRG Education fund called John Deere dealers in multiple states and found that the overwhelming majority don’t sell software tools needed for repair to farmers,” Conwell added. “Most of the time, the response to our request is an emphatic ‘no’. If you aren’t dealer-affiliated, you’re out of luck.”

Right to Repair legislation—which would provide farmers with access to the physical and software tools used to diagnose, calibrate and otherwise authorize repairs—is gaining popularity amongst farmers as a result. 

Last year, Colorado introduced a Right to Repair bill, which called for access to repair material for agricultural equipment as well as other electronic devices such as cellphones, laptops, household appliances, and medical equipment. 

“We are backing the Right to Repair campaign because we could hire professionals to educate the community on how to repair their own devices,” said Leandra Arellano, Founder and Creative Director of Backyard Farm NoCo.