When it comes to fixing farm equipment, farmers have to turn to the dealership for many repairs because dealership technicians can access software tools that farmers can’t. That can lead to high costs and long repair delays that can put farmers’ crops and livelihoods at risk. Dealership consolidation — particularly by John Deere — magnifies these problems by further eroding repair choices for farmers. We researched just how big the consolidation problem is and how Right to Repair could immediately and dramatically expand repair choices for farmers.
“When you look up an error code online, it tells you 30 different things that could be wrong. It could be the injector plug, it could be a failed sensor, it could be that the Diesel Emissions Fluid pump is not putting out. With software, the dealer can see specifically which one of those pieces is the issue. But because I can’t get that software, I have to chase parts, throwing money at the problem and replacing things until the problem goes away. Sometimes it’s just a software problem—you just need to go and reset it. I can’t do that.” - Minnesota farmer Wyatt Parks
“Even if [John Deere] continues to have this repair monopoly, if they had some segmentation, it would provide some incentive for these dealerships to do a better job. The fact that they have consolidated so much means that they absolutely don’t have to at all because you just have no other choice.” - Missouri farmer Jared Wilson
“When I first started farming, there were three family-owned dealerships within 45 minutes of my ranch. Now I have to drive nearly four hours to get to a second dealership chain.” - Walter Schweitzer, a third-generation farmer and president of the Montana Farmers Union
“I don’t like the idea that we just can’t do anything for ourselves, and we have to rely on mom and dad and big corporate America to make it all better and tuck us in at night.” - Minnesota farmer Wyatt Parks
Software repair locks tie farmers to dealers, putting equipment uptime — and sometimes crops — at risk
John Deere, which controls 53% of the country’s large tractor market, has been working to consolidate dealerships since the mid-2000s. Our research shows Deere has been quite successful in consolidating dealerships: 82% of Deere’s 1,357 agricultural equipment dealerships are a part of a large chain with seven or more locations. The average Deere chain has about 8 sites, with the largest chain network including 67. 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.
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 and cross state lines to get another quote from a dealer they might trust more.
When I first started farming, there were three family-owned dealerships within 45 minutes of my ranch. Now I have to drive nearly four hours to get to a second dealership chain… I just don’t get the same service that I used to.Walter Schweitzer
Third-generation farmer and president of the Montana Farmers Union
While less pronounced for other manufacturers, large dealership chains can be a problem for farmers regardless of the color of the paint on their tractor. The largest Case IH chain includes 57 locations that service agricultural equipment, AGCO includes 31, and the chain with the most locations that services Kubota equipment has 6 sites.
Dealer-manufacturer exclusivity is connected to and compounds this problem. Ninety-five percent of the combined 2,942 John Deere, Kubota, Case IH and AGCO dealership locations across the country service agricultural equipment from only one of the four manufacturers. Repair restrictions require dealerships to maintain agreements with manufacturers in order to access repair materials. If these restrictions were removed, dealerships, like farmers, could buy the tools they need to fix equipment made by any manufacturer. But as it is now, repair-infrastructure remains locked down as consolidation limits choice for farmers.
The farmer’s dilemma: Deal with your dealer or drive hundreds of miles?
Some farmers have good working relationships with their dealership regardless of the size of the chain to which it belongs. But many indicate that customer service at chain dealerships can be much worse than at local dealerships.
“When I first started farming, there were three family-owned dealerships within 45 minutes of my ranch. You’d walk in and one of the family members was behind the counter,” said Walter Schweitzer, a third-generation farmer and president of the Montana Farmers Union. “They went out of their way to help me because they had a vested interest in doing so — they didn’t want to lose my business to one of their nearby competitors.
“Now I have to drive nearly four hours to get to a second dealership chain, where there’s a corporate employee working. Between the lack of competition and the lack of local connection, I just don’t get the same service that I used to,” Schweitzer said.
The dealership landscape can also affect which equipment farmers purchase. Some farmers forgo modern equipment altogether; 77% of the 74 farmers U.S. PIRG Education Fund and National Farmers Union surveyed have purchased older-model equipment to avoid the software in newer equipment that requires dealership fixes.
Buy whatever is the closest dealership to you because those are the people that you need to help fix your stuff. When you need a part, the distance of that drive to the dealership means a lot.Wyatt Parks
But not all farmers want to rely on decades-old tractors. When people ask Wyatt Parks, a Minnesota farmer, which tractor to buy, he tells them to, “buy whatever is the closest dealership to you because those are the people that you need to help fix your stuff. When you need a part, the distance of that drive to the dealership means a lot.”
When farmers don’t trust or don’t like their closest dealership, consolidation can require them to drive hundreds of miles to get a second opinion from another chain. That presents a dilemma for farmers: Deal with the poor service or high prices that their closest dealership offers, or spend hours transporting your equipment to a competitor?
Even if [manufacturers] had this repair monopoly, if they had some segmentation, it would provide some incentive for these dealerships to do a better job. And the fact that they have consolidated so much means that they absolutely don’t have to at all, because you just have no other choice.Jared Wilson
“I want to emphasize just how much consolidation is affecting this,” Missouri farmer Jared Wilson told U.S. PIRG Education Fund. “Even if they had this repair monopoly, if they had some segmentation, it would provide some incentive for these dealerships to do a better job. And the fact that they have consolidated so much means that they absolutely don’t have to at all, because you just have no other choice. It’s not practical to take your 20 ton machine and move it 300 miles to go get work done. The logistics of that just don’t work.”
Right to Repair would immediately and dramatically expand repair options for farmers
Such policies are popular among the 74 farmers surveyed: 95% support Right to Repair. The current system, however, prevents much overlap, eliminating farmer choice.
By implementing Right to Repair reforms, state and federal lawmakers could unlock existing repair infrastructure to provide farmers with far more repair choices. They could precipitate the expansion of the repair market, creating opportunities for new independent repair businesses to open and supporting local jobs. State and federal lawmakers should implement Right to Repair to increase competition, improve customer service and lower repair costs for farmers.
Director, Campaign for the Right to Repair, U.S. PIRG Education Fund
Kevin helps run U.S. PIRG's Right to Repair campaign. He got his start as a Green Corps organizer, where he worked with Mighty Earth to call on Bridgestone to stop deforestation and human exploitation for natural rubber. He also led an effort to get a majority of both houses of the Massachusetts state Legislature to co-sponsor the 100% Renewable Energy Act. Kevin lives in Somerville, Massachusetts, where he enjoys reading, running and rooting for his Oakland A's from afar.