Why Farmers Need Right to Repair

How tractor repair restrictions affect farmers and what can be done to eliminate them
Released by: Illinois PIRG Education Fund

Planting season is a busy time for Missouri farmer Jared Wilson. “I’m working around the clock—sometimes 22 hours a day—to get seed in the ground. There is a finite window. Any seed we don’t plant in that window means less crop come harvest.”

It is critical that Wilson’s equipment operates the way it’s supposed to during those weeks. But last spring, he had a problem with his John Deere 9150R. An error code popped up on his tractor’s computer notifying him that the tractor could not “regenerate”—a process that burns off excess build-up in the emissions system to comply with emissions regulations. If the tractor cannot regenerate, it can go into “limp mode,” reducing power to a point that will allow a farmer to “limp” their equipment out of the field, but not much else.

Diagnosing such problems requires software tools. Modern farm equipment, like so many other products in our lives, runs on software. While the new technology has helped farmers increase productivity, it has also allowed manufacturers to lock down the repair process. Only manufacturer-branded technicians can access critical software tools needed to fix modern tractors, so farmers cannot repair their own equipment or hire an independent technician to do it for them.

In response, farmers across the country have joined the call for Right to Repair reforms, which would expand repair choice by giving farmers and independent mechanics access to necessary repair materials at a fair and reasonable price. 

This report has three main findings:

  1. Farmers want to fix their own equipment. Of the 74 farmers across 14 states surveyed by U.S. PIRG Education Fund and National Farmers Union, 95% support Right to Repair.

  2. Reliance on dealer technicians leads to high repair costs. 92% of farmers surveyed believe they could save money if they had better access to independent repair or could make all repairs themselves.

  3. Many farmers opt for older equipment to avoid software repair hassles. Of the farmers surveyed, 77% indicated that they had bought older-model equipment to avoid the software in newer equipment.

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