Congress Introduces Bill That Would Let Farmers Repair John Deere Tractors Without Hacking Them

The federal legislation would ensure right to repair for farmers nationwide.
A John Deere tractor and combine.
Image: Jason Koebler

A group of lawmakers introduced federal legislation that would make it easier for farmers to repair their tractors and would prevent them from having to literally hack into their John Deere tractors to do some basic repairs.

The legislation would “prohibit a manufacturer from imposing any additional cost or burden that is not reasonably necessary or is designed to be an impediment on the owner or independent repair provider,” and also requires them to make diagnostic software and firmware available to farmers and independent repair shops. The bill, called the Agriculture Right to Repair Act, was introduced by Reps. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, Joe Negus, Elissa Slotkin, and Abigail Spanberger on Wednesday.

The bill seeks to help farmers who have had to resort to pirating John Deere’s software from underground forums and torrent sites in order to diagnose and repair their tractors. For years, I have covered the issues farmers have faced because John Deere and other manufacturers have put artificial software locks and digital rights management systems into their tractors and their tractor parts that prevents everyone except authorized dealers from doing repair and maintenance on tractors.

John Deere’s repair policies have changed over the course of the last few years after the company has been repeatedly hammered by farmers, the media, and legislators over its practices. In 2018, the company said it would work to make tractors more repairable by 2021. It did not deliver on that promise. At the beginning of this year, it struck a deal with the American Farm Bureau, a lobbying group that represents farmers, on a “Memorandum of Understanding” that would allow for farmers to more easily fix their tractors, but that agreement had a provision that it would only remain valid specifically if no right to repair legislation was enacted.

“I bought a three-year-old John Deere 90-horsepower tractor. Within five minutes of using it, a yellow triangle lit up on the dash. Not being able to get diagnostic information about the error has disrupted my ability to farm … and a service appointment was available weeks away. I had to use a RELIABLE 1965 tractor to finish the job” Rob Baur, a farmer in Ridgefield, Washington, said in a statement announcing the bill. “I need a way for me or an independent mechanic to get the error code and decode it to get information about the problem.”

Most right to repair legislation has been introduced at the state level. This bill would seek to make right to repair the law of the land throughout the country.