John Deere has reached a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the American Farm Bureau Federation, which enables farmers in the US to take their equipment to a dealer of their choice to fix the problem or repair the machinery themselves.
The fight over the right to repair has been brewing for years. John Deere had so far required farmers and ranchers to use their own repair employees on equipment, in an effort to protect intellectual property.
John Deere says the agreement reaffirms a longstanding commitment the company has made to ensure customers have the diagnostic tools and information they need to make many repairs to their machines.
But there is no such arrangement in Australia yet. This could mean software malfunctions can leave machinery sitting idle in paddocks during peak periods until an authorised repairer is available. The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) says the MoU will place Aussie farmers at a disadvantage unless similar steps are taken there.
NFF President Fiona Simson says the Federation has been calling for Australian farmers to have the right to repair their agricultural machinery for years. “Farmers are small business owners who should have the same right as anyone else to have their machinery repaired by their preferred repairer or make small repairs on farm without fear of voiding warranties and travelling long distances to access authorised repairs and then being burdened by supply restrictions.”
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She emphasises that a right to repair would significantly reduce repair work delays, getting Australian farmers and their machinery back in the paddocks much quicker. “Having a header out of commission during harvest, is the difference between a profitable year or running at a loss for a grain grower.”
Ms Simson says that currently farmers are being locked into exorbitant costs with dealership networks for repairs and spare parts.
An inquiry from the Australian Productivity Commission in 2021 recommended the Australian government should introduce a repair supplies obligation on agricultural machinery. The NFF is calling on the Government to put that in action.
“Increased right to repair in our international competitors puts Australian farmers at a clear disadvantage if they have to pay more for machinery fixes, corroding Australian agricultural exports ability to compete on a level playing field in the international market”, Ms Simson points out.
According to Victorian Farmers Federation grains president Ashley Fraser the right to repair is a global issue. She expects John Deere Australia to adopt the US policy, and encouraged other manufacturers to follow suit.
But in the US some people in agriculture are worried that the latest agreement doesn’t go far enough and is an attempt to stave off the passage of right to repair legislation at the federal and state levels.
Montana Farmers Union President Walter Schweitzer is sceptical. “Clearly the MoU is meaningless because there’s no enforcement of the agreement in the language, and precedence has shown that John Deere doesn’t honour similar MoUs”, Schweitzer says.