Manufacturers have out-lobbied and outspent equipment owners 28-1.
Manufacturers have out-lobbied and outspent equipment owners 28-1.
June 6, 2017
January 10, 2023 update: John Deere this week announced that it had signed a memorandum of understanding with the American Farm Bureau Federation to allow independent mechanics access to tools and software documentation to repair their equipment. In exchange, the Farm Bureau agreed to not advocate for any state or federal right-to-repair legislation—a caveat that has advocacy groups like PIRG calling for continued efforts to pass right-to-repair laws.
This article was produced by MapLight in partnership with Civil Eats.
When Tom Schwarz was growing up on his family’s 2,500-acre Nebraska produce farm and their International tractor broke down, fixing it was pretty simple.
“You bought a new part,” said Schwarz, 58. “Or, you bought a used part. You replaced what was broken, and you moved on.”
Today, repairs are much more complicated. Recently, a component in the guidance system on Schwarz’s John Deere 7230 tractor, which he uses to plant his crops, broke. Since the Moline, Illinois-based company no longer supports his tractor’s system, Schwarz is looking at a $3,000 bill for a used electrical part. He would like to just get his current component repaired, but manufacturers won’t provide independent shops with the guides or technology that would allow them to fix it, and Deere—one of the few tractor manufacturers with an authorized repair shop in south-central Nebraska—won’t repair older parts if it no longer supports them.
Schwarz is far from alone. Once capable of fixing their mechanical workhorses in a barn or under the shade of a tree, many of the nation’s 3.2 million farmers are now faced with tractors that can only be fixed by a manufacturer—a situation that benefits manufacturers’ bottom lines but puts added burdens on often-struggling farmers. But Schwarz and other farmers are fighting back. They’re pushing “right-to-repair” legislation, which would require manufacturers to provide the same information and parts to farmers or independent repair shops as they do for the manufacturers’ repair shops.
This year, right-to-repair bills have been introduced in 11 state legislatures, including Kansas, Minnesota, New York, Tennessee, Massachusetts, Wyoming, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, North Carolina, and Nebraska. Supporters of the bill are at a distinct monetary disadvantage, though, and policy victories frequently are won by the side that spends the most. A MapLight analysis of state lobbying reports found proponents of right-to-repair legislation have been outspent by a 28-to-1 margin. Companies opposed to the legislation spent more than $2.6 million in New York, Massachusetts, and Nebraska. Meanwhile, the coalition that wants farmers to be able to fix their own tractors has spent $93,620.
“We never doubted that it was going to be difficult, in a David-vs.-Goliath kind of way, to go up against some of the most iconic brands in the world,” said Gay Gordon-Byrne, executive director of The Repair Association, a New Jersey-based coalition that works to promote right-to-repair legislation.
The Case Against Right-to-Repair
Nebraska isn’t short of farmers like Schwarz who want to be able to repair their own equipment. This year, the Nebraska Farm Bureau approved a resolution expressing support for a right-to-repair bill.
Meanwhile, equipment makers—including Deere, which controls as much as 60 percent of the tractor market in the U.S. and Canada—are opposed to the legislation. In a letter laying out its position, Deere argued that current regulations are necessary to maintain product safety and compliance with emissions standards.
“Allowing untrained individuals to modify equipment software can endanger operators, bystanders, dealers, mechanics, customers, and others,” said Ken Golden, a Deere spokesman. He added that customers, dealers, and manufacturers “should work together on the issue rather than invite government regulation that could add costs with no associated value.”
Golden confirmed Deere has lobbied on right-to-repair legislation, but declined to say in which states or how much the company spent. However, records show Deere has retained lobbyists in New York and reported spending $42,000 while lobbying on a 2015 right-to-repair bill in Massachusetts without reporting a position on the bill.
Deere and other equipment dealers have strong incentives to fight right-to-repair legislation. If farmers are forced to visit authorized dealers, it provides increased business for the manufacturers, and allows them to set the price for parts. Additionally, having only authorized shops able to repair machines means farmers are more likely to buy equipment from manufacturers with authorized shops nearby—which in most areas are the bigger companies such as Deere or Case IH.
Right-to-repair legislation has attracted more than just tractor manufacturers’ attention, though. If a right-to-repair bill were to pass, it could also affect people ranging from heavy equipment operators to mobile-phone users. Caterpillar, the world’s largest manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, has spent $38,700 while lobbying on right-to-repair legislation in New York. The Iowa-Nebraska Equipment Dealers Association spent $38,000 while lobbying against a 2015 right-to-repair bill. And corporate heavyweights including Apple, Verizon, and the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) oppose the legislation.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative dark-money organization that proposes model legislation for the states, has also declared its opposition to right-to-repair bills. The council, whose funders include billionaire libertarian brothers Charles and David Koch, describes right-to-repair legislation as “government mandates on innovators” that would force them to hand over proprietary information. Both e-commerce trade association NetChoice and telecom giant AT&T, which are opposed to right-to-repair legislation, are also on ALEC’s private enterprise board.
Nebraska, the nation’s fourth-largest agricultural economy, emerged in 2015 as a key battleground for legislative efforts to give farmers like Schwarz the ability to repair their own tractors. Telecom companies and trade associations that lobbied against the bill, including Verizon and CTIA, as well as manufacturing companies such as the Iowa-Nebraska Equipment Dealers Association, spent more than $78,000 combined. The lone supporter, the Nebraska Farmers Union, spent $4,400.
Senstor Bob Krist, an Omaha Republican who sits on the legislature’s agriculture committee, said he had mixed feelings about the bill. “When you’re charging $4,500 for a software update for a GPS, I think you’re out of line,” Krist said. He didn’t have to balance his reservations about the bill in a vote on the 2015 measure, though; a series of procedural maneuvers in the state legislature doomed the bill, and it died in committee.
Outside of farm country, right-to-repair laws are also hotly contested. When Massachusetts considered right-to-repair legislation in 2015, opponents included medical companies such as Boston Scientific Corporation and Johnson and Johnson, automotive organizations like the Massachusetts State Automobile Dealers Association and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, and technology companies including Apple. Opponents of the bill spent $1.27 million. Its lone supporter, The Repair Association, spent $31,500.
New York also considered right-to-repair legislation in 2015. Opponents spent $1.3 million lobbying in the state, while the coalition that supported the failed bill spent more than $57,000.
Senator Phil Boyle, a Long Island Republican, said he sponsored the legislation after hearing complaints from repair shops in his district, who felt their growth was being stifled by manufacturers.
If history is any guide, right-to-repair advocates may look to bypass legislatures in favor of direct voter initiatives. A 2012 Massachusetts ballot measure to give diagnostic and repair information to car owners and repair shops passed with 86 percent of the vote.
“I think the way forward is a state is going to pass [right-to-repair legislation], or we’re going to do a ballot initiative,” The Repair Association’s Gordon-Byrne said. “But is it going to be next year or is it going to be in 10 years? That, I don’t know.”
Meanwhile, Tom Schwarz, the Nebraska farmer, is saving his money so he can afford a new guidance component for his $120,000 tractor. Since Schwarz is an organic farmer who can’t use herbicides, the machine’s guidance system ensures that stray weeds can be removed without damaging his crops. In the meantime, he’s resigned to buying a $3,000 second-hand part from Deere—the only source for the component.
“I’m going to have to buy another receiver,” he said. “This is the second receiver I’ve bought—and every time I do this, it’s thousands of dollars.
“You have no other option,” he said. “You have to go to John Deere for everything.”
[Editor’s note: Visit MapLight.org to read more about the methodology for the data in this article.]
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For the record, I am a backyard mechanic who still does most of his own auto repair - as well as a lot of other repairs around my house. I know when I can't do something - and take it to a repair shop.
Opposing this legislation is mostly an attempt to hold a monopoly - and the consumer loses. Letting people repair their own things is a mostly win for everyone but the manufacturer, who too often use planned obsolescence to make a profit.
This is a BS corporate, lobbyist driven rip off against our agriculture system.
No wonder our food is so high.
We have to help our farmers have a fighting chance.
The process is rooted entirely in the bottom line. The corporate culture has no room for concern about its customers, the environment or even its employees. the barest minimums will be met to meet the needs of these components of business. What can be done to increase profit margins and satisfy investors is the ONLY element of business that matters. It will be no surprise to see an increase in foreign equipment on American farms.
Are they trying to put the farmer out of business? Farmers struggle as it is without being gouged by the mfg. supposedly supporting them.
"New World Disorder"
The ‘modern’ throwaway society that we are in right now has been forced upon us by manufactures not producing quality products that can be fixed. They know that it is better for their profit to produce crap and make us buy another. When repair is an option, they try to monopolize that to. As a Veteran and a Farmer, I make do with what I have and do my dandiest to repair things myself.
Buyers can force them to change or go broke. You do not have to be first to smell new paint,
It is you or them.
The ability of farmers to fix things has always been good until the manufacturers make things that can't be fixed by anyone but their own people. They 'control' every aspect of it so you have to get it done from them! Veterinarians have done the same...control...as we used to vaccinate our own animals with things available at feed stores. Now, you can't get them! Greed is the driving force...keep them a 'captive audience' and a 'forever' customer... not from good service, but by forcing them to buy from you, or you end up with a non-working piece of crap worth thousands of dollars!!!
Don't buy equipment from manufacturers that Rape their own Customers. I have NEVER bought ANY piece of equipment that I cannot repair myself, or buy after-market parts. My equipment is OLD, but it works, is repairable and/or rebuild-able, an a LOT cheaper than the new stuff that breaks down and breaks your bank. And I don't have to go crying to the government to do it. Or bribe someone with my seed-money.
It is just the way these big companies want to keep the farmers in the poor house.
OK, I am calling a little bit of BS on this article. While my family has had issues with John Deere in the past when it comes to parts and repairs, they involved the ECM. Of course John Deere doesn't want people jailbreaking the code that runs their machines, just like Apple, Andriod, Samsung and Microsoft don't want you dicking with the code that runs their products. Besides, how many software engineers also farm? Probably not many. Second, if he had problems with his autosteer, he can by a new one and put it on. They are pretty much universal and if he doesn't want Greenstar, there are aftermarket retrofit kits out there that he can install. I have seen an autosteer system on an old Farmall H. It was comical to see.
"Since the Moline, Illinois-based company no longer supports his tractor’s system, Schwarz is looking at a $3,000 bill for a used electrical part. " I am also calling more BS on this. A few years ago my dad and I rebuilt a John Deere 720 that my grandfather bought brand new in 1952. Our John Deere dealer still could get John Deere parts for that tractor. If John Deere still has parts for a tractor that is almost 65 years old, I suspect they still support a model tractor that went out of production in 2011.
But again, if they don't he can always get an aftermarket retrofit kit for his tractor.
This kind of looks like a case of restricted free trade !
I would also consider looking into setting up a technical class in a High School or Community College to teach students and adults to repair these systems. One might be able to then get the Federal Education Dept to take on the companies, as many are looking of workers.
Good luck to you.