‘Hog-tied’ and fed up: New report shows dealership consolidation makes farmers’ lives harder

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BOSTON — Many farm equipment manufacturers prevent farmers from accessing the software tools they need to fix their modern tractors. That forces farmers to turn to corporate-authorized dealers for many problems, which can lead to high repair bills and delays that can put their crops—and their livelihoods—at risk. While farmers have always relied on local dealerships for help, more and more those dealerships have been bought up by large chain networks, further reducing competition and exacerbating the problems farmers already face due to repair restrictions.

A new U.S. PIRG report, “Deere in the Headlights II,” demonstrates the extent of the dealership consolidation problem, and how Right to Repair reforms could dramatically increase farmers’ repair choices.

 Our research found that John Deere, which controls 53% of the country’s large tractor market, has more consolidated and larger chains than competitors Case IH, AGCO and Kubota. Eighty-two percent of Deere’s 1,357 agricultural equipment dealership locations are a part of a large chain with seven or more sites. This mass consolidation means that there is one John Deere dealership chain for every 12,018 farms and every 5.3 million acres of American farmland.

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Fig. 1: 82% of Deere dealership locations are part of large chains with 7 or more sites, compared to 37% for Case IH, 22% for AGCO and 5.8% for Kubota.

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“Between repair restrictions and dealership consolidation, farmers are feeling hog-tied,” said U.S. PIRG Right to Repair Campaign Director Kevin O’Reilly. “Farmers deserve to be able to choose between fixing their own tractors, hiring an independent mechanic or turning to competing dealerships nearby. Instead, many have only one dealership chain within a hundred miles that services their brand of equipment. Finding repair options shouldn’t be like searching for a needle in a haystack.”

Montana offers a stark example of how certain Deere dealerships can exert regional domination. Despite having 58 million acres of farmland, the second-most of any state in the country, Montana has only three large John Deere chains with a combined 19 locations. RDO Equipment has a couple of locations in Western Montana, Frontline Ag Solutions serves much of the center of the state and C & B Operations has locations throughout Eastern Montana.

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Fig. 2: Owners of John Deere equipment in Montana can have to travel hundreds of miles to find a competing dealership chain.

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“A lot of small- and medium-sized farm operations rely on being able to repair stuff themselves. It’s expensive to take things in, and people in rural areas might be two hours away from a dealership,” said Minnesota farmer Wyatt Parks. “I don’t like the idea that we just can’t do anything for ourselves—that we have to rely on mom and dad and big corporate America to make it all better and tuck us in at night. Just let us fix our stuff.” 

Many farmers including Parks are calling for Right to Repair reforms, which would provide farmers and independent mechanics with the software and other materials required to repair modern tractors. Such policies have gained widespread support from decision makers across the country. Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana) introduced the Agricultural Right to Repair Act in the U.S. Senate earlier this month, while state legislators from both sides of the aisle have authored similar bills in 19 states so far this year.

“When I talk to other farmers in my district, they make it clear that they don’t have what they need to fix the tractors they own,” said Missouri Rep. Barry Hovis (R-Cape Girardeau), a farmer and author of the Right to Repair bill in his home state. “It’s crazy that the manufacturer can control what a farmer can and can’t do with the equipment they paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for. Letting a farmer fix their stuff isn’t about partisan politics—it’s just common sense.”

A recording of the webinar release featuring panelists Missouri Rep. Barry Hovis, Minnesota Farmer Wyatt Parks and Open Markets Institute Food Program Manager Claire Kelloway is available.

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