Ag Groups Ask FTC to Investigate Deere

Farmers Unions Press Federal Trade Commission to Investigate John Deere

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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Agriculture groups have asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate John Deere on the right-to-repair issue. (DTN file photo)

LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) -- National and state-level farmers union groups filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission on Thursday, alleging John Deere is violating the Sherman Act in withholding diagnostic software and other equipment from its customers.

The FTC complaint was filed by the National Farmers Union, as well as state NFUs in Iowa, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Wisconsin, along with Farm Action, U.S. Public Interest Research Group, Illinois Public Interest Research Group, Digital Right to Repair Coalition and iFixit.

"Petitioners respectfully request that the Commission investigate the repair restrictions Deere and Company has imposed that prevent farmers and ranchers from repairing their own Deere equipment or obtaining repairs from independent repair providers," the groups said in the complaint.

The groups said Deere's practice "constitutes an unfair and deceptive trade practice" and they ask the FTC to enjoin Deere from continuing the practice.

"Deere is the dominant force in the $68 billion U.S. agricultural equipment market, controlling over 50% of the market for large tractors and combines," the groups said.

"For many farmers and ranchers, they effectively have no choice but to purchase their equipment from Deere. Not satisfied with dominating just the market for equipment, Deere has sought to leverage its power in that market to monopolize the market for repairs of that equipment, to the detriment of farmers, ranchers, and independent repair providers."

The groups said without action taken by the FTC, Deere would "continue to enforce its anticompetitive repair restrictions and extract unlawful rents from farmers and ranchers until it is ordered to change course."

The right to repair increasingly has become an issue in agriculture and other industries with state legislatures introducing bills in at least 32 states, including bills in 21 states in 2021. The state of Nebraska may become the first state legislature to vote on legislation this year.

When contacted by DTN previously, Deere communication staff said the company does not comment on pending lawsuits.

Equipment manufacturers currently will not allow farmers the hardware or software needed to diagnose a problem, much less repair it. So, dealers must send their teams out to the field to diagnose a problem and likely order parts, then come back out to make the repairs. There may be other complications with repairs.

The complaint also alleges Deere has violated the Sherman Act by making pronouncements about providing diagnostic equipment to farmers and then not delivering.

"Deere advertises that it is committed to giving farmers 'repairability' and that it is taking measures to ensure farmers have access to the tools they need to repair their own equipment," the complaint said.

In 2018, when many state legislatures were considering 'right-to-repair' legislation, Deere issued a "statement of principles" promising that by Jan. 1, 2021, Deere would "make available through authorized dealers (tools) to empower farmers and ranchers" to perform basic service, maintenance and to make repairs on their equipment.

"The associations said that their taking this action would "strike the right balance in the way 'right-to-repair' legislation would not," the complaint said.

"With 2021 having come and gone, neither the associations nor Deere has lived up to these representations. Deere has made additional diagnostic tools available only through dealerships that often resist selling the tools and only when farmers pay a separate, costly fee; even then, Deere withholds many of the most crucial tools required to implement key repairs, such as even simply replacing certain necessary parts.

"Thus, while Deere has successfully staved off state legislation that would enable farmers to repair their own equipment, it did so by materially misleading consumers."

Farmers and ranchers have been working to overcome the lack of diagnostic equipment by often purchasing older models that don't require special diagnostics software.

The complaint cited a study that found 77% of farmers surveyed purchased older equipment.

"For instance, in November 2021, a Deere tractor built in 1998 sold for $170,000 -- more than $32,000 more than that model had ever been recorded selling for," the groups said in the complaint.

"While some of that price increase may be due to current supply chain disruptions and Deere's nascent labor issues, farmers have reported that one key reason for the increase in demand for older machinery is that 'they're easier to work on and repair than newer models.'"

Read more on DTN:

"Deere Right-to-Repair Lawsuits Grow," https://www.dtnpf.com/…

"Nebraska Right-to-Repair Bill Advances," https://www.dtnpf.com/…

"Right-to-Repair Bill Offered in Senate," https://www.dtnpf.com/…

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @DTNeeley

Todd Neeley