SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (DTN) -- The president of the American Farm Bureau Federation on Sunday signed a memorandum of understanding with executives from John Deere that will give farmers more opportunity to diagnose and repair their own Deere tractors and other equipment.
"A lot of times, dealers are several hours away in some part of our country," said Zippy Duvall, a Georgia farmer and president of AFBF. He added, "This is the beginning of a process that we think will be real healthy for our farmers and for the country."
Duvall announced the agreement at AFBF's annual meeting, which is being held in San Juan this week for the first time.
The memorandum of understanding (MOU) will give farmers and third-party mechanics the ability to pay for subscriptions or access to Deere diagnostic tools and product guides needed to make repairs.
In return for signing the agreement, AFBF agrees to encourage state Farm Bureau organizations to back the MOU and decline from "introducing, promoting, or supporting federal or state 'Right to Repair' legislation" that goes beyond the obligations spelled out in the six-page MOU.
Mark McHargue, president of the Nebraska Farm Bureau, was among the first Farm Bureau state leaders to start negotiating for private agreements with farm equipment companies. He called the MOU signing a "watershed moment" between the country's largest farm organization and the largest manufacturer of machinery and parts. He noted the agreement gives farmers the ability to use third-party technicians to develop tools and software for repairs.
"That's not something we probably could have done before this MOU," McHargue said.
Deere also agrees in the MOU for meetings twice a year with AFBF members to talk about repair issues or related problems.
"Fundamentally, I think it tips the scale for the farmer in ways that we haven't had before when it comes to diagnostics and repairs," McHargue said.
Farm Bureau has been engaging with other equipment manufacturers, but the talks with Deere had progressed quicker and further along than with others, McHargue said.
David Gilmore, senior vice president for sales and marketing in Ag & Turf at Deere, said the agreement "really formalizes a long-standing commitment John Deere has with our customers to ensure they have the tools and the information necessary for them to repair their equipment."
Gilmore noted producers make significant investments in their machinery and equipment. "The opportunity to maximize the uptime of that equipment and minimize downtime is an important area of focus for our organization and for the industry."
The MOU comes while Deere is facing a class-action lawsuit filed by farmers in at least eight states against the manufacturer. DTN reported in November that the lawsuit alleges Deere has tried to monopolize the repair service market for John Deere brand agricultural equipment with onboard central computers known as engine control units, or ECUs.
Beyond legislation introduced in Congress, DTN has reported that state legislatures have introduced bills in at least 32 states, including bills in 21 states in 2021.
Sam Kieffer, vice president of public affairs for AFBF, said the MOU differentiates between the "right to repair" and modifying a piece of equipment. Kieffer said part of the marching orders in negotiating a policy with Deere was to focus on the right to repair but differentiate that issue from modifying a piece of equipment. Kieffer said AFB as an organization supports intellectual property rights.
Kieffer also acknowledged part of the intention behind the MOU is "to find a solution in the private sector" because both state and federal legislation created a different set of problems or did not address agriculture.
"The intent of this MOU was to work directly with manufacturers to find what it is that producers wanted and needed," Kieffer said. In Congress, "There was legislation in the House, there was legislation in the United States Senate. Our intent is to work with the manufacturers and solve the problems ourselves and let Congress focus on other very important things like the farm bill."
Collis Jones, vice president of U.S. policy and strategy at John Deere, said the intent is to formalize the tools and offering of products provided to Deere customers today.
"As you look across the country, there is a lot of confusion, a lot of misunderstanding about what we offer, but this formalizes to American Farm Bureau Federation members about what those exact offerings are," Jones said.
Jones added, "Today, the first line of defense for actual product repair and breakdowns is actually working with your local dealer. So that's not going to change."
If there is an instance where there "is not the right connection between that dealer and that customer," Deere "is there to support them and also working with our partners at the American Farm Bureau Federation to make sure any issues are resolved."
The MOU is based on similar agreements in the automobile industry, Nebraska Farm Bureau noted. Through the MOU, farmers, ranchers, and independent repair facilities will have access to diagnostic and repair codes and their meanings, manuals and product guys. They will also be able to directly purchase diagnostic tools from John Deere and receive assistance from John Deere when ordering parts and products.
DTN asked if someone from a Deere dealership cannot get out to a farm to help a producer, then can the farmer call someone at the co-op to come out and fix it? What are the actual nuts and bolts of who gets to be the mechanic?
Jones replied, "The actual nuts and bolts is the customer gets to decide. So whether the customer wants to do it themselves, or have an independent repair shop do that, or work with our local dealer, that is a customer's decision."
Answering another follow-up question, Jones said there are already authorized Deere technicians. "Any customer or independent repair shop who purchases our diagnostic tools and customer service advisor will have the opportunity to be trained by a technician."
Link to the full MOU language: https://www.fb.org/…
"Deere: Tech Creates Sustainability," https://www.dtnpf.com/…
"Deere Right-to-Repair Complaint Filed," https://www.dtnpf.com/…
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
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