Consumer advocates claim that John Deere & Co., the nation’s largest tractor manufacturer, has repeatedly violated the Clean Air Act by restricting repairs to authorized John Deere dealerships.
According to the advocates, the Clean Air Act requires companies to provide the necessary information, including software, to repair emissions control systems in vehicles and to confirm that they are doing so in annual EPA certification filings. By denying farmers and independent technicians access to source codes and other software required for repair, advocates claim the tractor giant is breaking the law — and has been doing so since the regulation was finalized in 2004.
Nonprofit organizations such as U.S. PIRG, a consumer protection organization, and Repair.org, which advocate for legislation that protects consumers’ ability to repair and modify products they own, are urging the Environmental Protection Agency to investigate Deere for the alleged violations and, if found in violation, bring the company into compliance.
However, the company has stated in testimony and other public statements that they restrict access to the emissions control systems because farmers may delete the emissions software, which Deere claims is a violation of the Clean Air Act. Farmers may view deletion as a simpler option than dealing with emissions systems that occasionally fail, according to the company. This argument, according to farmers and activists, is a red herring.
Farmers and their advocates have long complained about the tractor giant’s restrictions on who can repair their machines. In recent months, John Deere has faced shareholder scrutiny, a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission, and is named in 17 class action lawsuits concerning its repair limits.
However, Ron Tenpas, a former assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, believes the language may be unclear. The language of the statute “seems primarily focused on insisting that equipment makers do not tell customers, such as in a product manual, that the customer must absolutely use a Deere dealership for service,” according to Tenpas.
Advocates, on the other hand, argue that the law’s intent is clear. “We want the intent of the law, i.e. people to be able to repair, maintain, or replace their emissions system,” explained Willie Cade, an advocate for agricultural Right to Repair and Repair.org board member. This would necessitate John Deere making diagnostic and repair software available to customers, which is currently only available to dealers. Deere announced in March that it would sell diagnostic and repair software to customers. Farmers and advocates, however, argue that this is insufficient.
The status quo, for example, does not allow farmers to use software to diagnose and repair emissions system problems. A one-year subscription to the program currently costs $3,115. Cade claims that the company’s decision to sell the software rather than make it available for free is a violation of the spirit of the law.
Consolidation at the dealership level has intensified, adding to the challenges, according to a February US PIRG report. According to the report, there is only one John Deere dealership chain for every 12,018 farms and 5.3 million acres of farmland. Schweitzer recalls a half-dozen family-owned Deere dealerships within an hour’s drive of his ranch when he first started farming. There are now only three in Montana.
Consolidation is also a major issue in the manufacturing sector, with Deere, CNH, and AGCO dominating the North American market for large tractors. Deere controls 53% of the large tractor market in North America and 63% of the combines market.
The emissions system is critical to the operation of these expensive machines, which cost around $300,000.
Advocates see the push for greater flexibility in tractor emissions repairs as an opportunity for regulators to take immediate action. While the Right to Repair movement has gained traction among farmers in recent years, it has yet to achieve many victories. In the last year, 21 state legislatures have proposed repair legislation that would include agriculture machines, but none have become law.