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

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Raleigh, NC — 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 NCPIRG Education Fund report, “Deere in the Headlights II,” demonstrates the extent of the dealership consolidation problem, looks at the specific impacts on North Carolina Farmers, and shows 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. In North Carolina, there is one John Deere chain for every 2,421 farms and every 442,000 acres of farmland.

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.

“Between repair restrictions and dealership consolidation, farmers are feeling hog-tied,” said Katie Craig, NCPIRG Education Fund State Director. “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 good repair options shouldn’t be like searching for a needle in a haystack.”

Fig. 2: Particular chain dealership networks often dominate certain regions in states, meaning that some farmers only have one dealership choice near them. That can force them to travel long distances to get another quote from a dealer they might trust more.

“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. 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.

“Farmers options repair options are dwindling, and it’s a cause for concern,” said Craig. “Giving farmers a Right to Repair means that they can take equipment to a wider variety of local businesses. Manufacturer shouldn’t be allowed to tell farmers where they can fix their equipment. It’s common sense.”

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