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

Media Contacts
Emma Horst-Martz

Former Advocate, PennPIRG

Manufacturer-imposed restrictions prevent farmers from fixing their own tractors. Dealership consolidation in Pennsylvania and around the country leaves them with even fewer repair choices.

PennPIRG Education Fund

PHILADELPHIA— 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 PennPIRG Education Fund report, “Deere in the Headlights II,” demonstrates the extent of the dealership consolidation problem, looks at the specific impacts on Pennsylvania 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 Pennsylvania, there is one John Deere chain for every 2,635 farms and every 365,000 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 Emma Horst-Martz, PennPIRG Education Fund Advocate. “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.”

Fig 2.: There are large swaths of Pennsylvania with no dealerships within 100 miles. 

“I’ve been purchasing ag equipment for the last 14 years, and in that time I’ve seen many of my area’s independent tractor dealers bought up by larger chains,” said Michael Kovach, Pennsylvania Farmers Union President. “At the same time, the equipment that every type of dealer sells has become impossible to repair without specialized equipment, proprietary software, closely guarded knowledge, or some combination thereof. The inability to fix your machinery in the field (or call a nearby independent shop to do so) causing a delay in planting, harvest, haymaking — or any number of other time-sensitive tasks on a farm — could easily be the main driver of a bad year for a Family Farmer reliant on his equipment.”

Many farmers including Kovach 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. Senators Elder Vogel and Judy Schwank have introduced SB998 and Representatives Russ Diamond and Austin Davis have introduced HB1152, which would grant state’s farmers the Right to Repair their equipment. 

“SB 998 is not intended to allow individuals to alter their equipment but to give them the option to maintain and repair parts they are capable of fixing,” said Senator Elder Vogel, Jr.

“There are farmers from every corner of the commonwealth who work tirelessly to provide us with the agricultural products we rely on,” said Senator Judy Schwank. “They’re busy, hardworking people who depend on machinery like tractors to make a living. They shouldn’t be forced to turn to corporate-authorized dealers that are often located far away whenever they have a problem. This only delays the service process and leads to higher repair prices. If a local repair shop is capable of doing the job, they should be allowed to.”