Press "Enter" to skip to content

Lack of Right to Repair Hampers Farming, Health Care

NPR’s Morning Edition discussed the “right to repair” movement among farmers this morning. A Montana farmer turned activist recounted how last summer, as he raced to bring in a hay crop, his John Deere tractor broke down. John Deere’s policies forbade him from taking his tractor to an independent mechanic or trying to fix his own tractor on site to get back to haying; Deere forced him to take the tractor to one of its dealers for service that took a month and cost $5,000.

The problem arises because, as we rely increasingly on precision agriculture and as we use technology to make engines cleaner and more efficient, John Deere and other manufacturers rig their tractors with software that they keep under proprietary wraps. Basically, a farmer spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on a field machine that he doesn’t really own and cannot open up and fix with his own hands.

The same problem has arisen with medical equipment:

COVID-19 emphasises the longstanding refusal by manufacturers to provide information for repairing medical equipment. For years, manufacturers have curtailed the ability of hospitals to independently repair and maintain medical equipment by preventing access to the necessary knowledge, software, tools, and parts.

A solution exists—one that exists in other sectors of our economy. The right to repair is the right of consumers to repair and modify their own consumer electronic devices, such as mobile phones and automobiles. The European Commission announced plans in March, 2020, for new rules for the right to repair that would cover mobile phones, tablets, and laptops by 2021. In the USA, Massachusetts state passed the country’s first Motor Vehicle Owners’ Right to Repair Act in 2012,5 requiring automobile manufacturers to provide the necessary information for anyone to repair their vehicles.

There is an opportunity now for the medical community to ensure that the medical field benefits from access rights to open data that are similar to the rights for consumer electronics and automobiles. In August, 2020, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon introduced the Critical Medical Infrastructure Right-to-Repair Act of 2020, removing barriers to fixing medical equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic that were imposed by manufacturers. This bill requires that manufacturers provide, on fair and reasonable terms, access to information and tools that can be used to diagnose, maintain, or repair medical equipment. The law also allows owners, lessees, and services for medical equipment to repair or maintain crucial medical infrastructure in response to COVID-19.

During these extraordinary times, such legislation for the right to repair not only moves the medical field in a more affordable, efficient, and sustainable direction but also enables life-saving services to continue to be available at times of high stress [Shuhan He, Debbie Lai, and Larone Lee, “The Medical Right to Repair: The Right to Save Lives,” The Lancet, 2021.03.24].

As of April 22, 27 states have introduced right-to-repair legislation, including some bills focusing on agricultural or medical equipment. South Dakota is not among them; the South Dakota Legislature took feeble stabs at right-to-repair legislation with 2014 Senate Bill 136 and 2019 House Bill 1102, but neither bill survived first contact with committee due to opposition from tractor dealers, auto dealers, telecoms, retailers, and the Chamber of Commerce.


  1. bearcreekbat 2021-05-26 10:11

    This story sounds fishy to me. Once someone sells a tractor or anything else to a consumer the vender/seller has no control over what the consumer does with the product.

    Listening to the NPR link tells the rest of the story. The farmers in the story are mad because they (and the local repair shop) simply lack the skill and necessary tools to repair a modern tractor, not because John Deere won’t permit the repair. John Deere just won’t sell the farmer the same diagnositic equipment it provides to local businesses as an enticement to become John Deere dealers, so these local dealers can make money selling and repairing John Deere tractors.

    The complaint is not that the farmer has been denied the “right to repair” a tractor. Rather. the complaint is that a private company, like John Deere, will not give or sell the farmer the tools the farmer concludes are needed to accomplish the repair – i.e. the farmer lacks “the right to force a vender to give or sell the farmer a particular product.”

  2. O 2021-05-26 11:58

    How is this different from electronics that have a seal that once broken by the consumer, voids a warranty? Isn’t this also similar to the way seed is sold now?

    I’m surprised any of our GOP friends would interfere with this clearly pro-business practice. What are we, a bunch of socialists who want the government to tell businesses how to conduct themselves?

    Why is the real answer then to buy a tractor or equipment from a bran that does not have this conditional use rider of ownership? Shouldn’t Case or IH be marketing to this disapproving bevy of potential consumers?

  3. Porter Lansing 2021-05-26 12:41

    Bear … The control can easily be legal. The manufacturer refuses to sell parts, needed for repairs and sues any company making knock off, replacement parts.

    Sears did it for decades.

    Look where they are now.

  4. cibvet 2021-05-26 13:03

    Same old game of auto dealers. An local mechanics’ shop rate of $100 compared to dealers’ rate of $200. An oil change at the local mech. done for $30 and at a dealer advertised oil change for $50. Then at the dealer you get hit with needing a cabin filter change, tires rotated or need new, air filter change, battery is weak, need a radiator flush with new antifreeze, fuel injectors need cleaning and etc. When you pay the oil change bill it will be somewhere between $300 and $1000 dollars if you are lucky. Dealerships of auto or farm equipment are notoriously greedy.Trust no one unless you can watch them work on your vehicle.

  5. bearcreekbat 2021-05-26 14:01

    Porter, I respectfully disagree with the idea that a company’s legal efforts to stop the aftermarket manufacture and sale of replacement parts constitutes a legal impediment to the consumer’s “right to repair.” Perhaps my view is influenced by spending much of my life reparing items when neither original nor aftermarket replacement parts were available. Whether I needed to find used parts or had to make the parts myself (or hire someone to make them at a machine shop) I always had the option of repairing an item myself. Usually I succeeded in repairing whatever I tackled and sometimes I failed. While the lack of replacement parts was irritating, it was never sufficient to prevent me from making the attempt. If memory serves me correctly, generally developing the ability to make parts and do one’s own repairs was an essential skill for successful farming or ranching (among many other endeavors) in SD. And today, there is so much more information readily available on youtube and other internet sites on how to repair just about anything than I could have ever imagined.

    If a manufacturer decides to market a product without making replacement parts available except through a dealership, then that information should be readily available to any consumer upon inquiry. And sooner or later competitors will step in and offer products with replacement parts available to consumers and repair shops, and thereby take a market share away from the culpable business. The idea that a business can somehow thrive by attempting to interfere with a consumer’s “right to repair” just doesn’t fly.

  6. Dicta 2021-05-26 14:26

    Isn’t a big part of right to repair complaints about the fact that manufacturers actively discourage the development of replacement parts and repairs from anyone except those that have some sort of business relationship with the original manufacturer? I thought the entire complaint was that manufacturers were behaving in an anti-competitive manner and thus stifling innovation and harming end users?

  7. Richard Schriever 2021-05-26 15:53

    Just this past week, I had the key to my car damaged. It utilizes a chip in the fob to associate the key with the specific VIN number of the car. If the chip is damaged, car won’t start – not even a “push start”. It just won’t. To replace the key, I was required to appear IN PERSON at a dealership for this particular brand (there is only one in SD) and provide the title and a photo ID. The cost is $425+ for 2 keys. (I’m hedging the 2nd one against any further problems.)

  8. Porter Lansing 2021-05-26 17:27

    I’m of the same mindset as you, BCB. I often had to fabricate parts on the farm. What I’m saying is, “How can you stop John Deere from impeding your ability to repair their implements?”

    John Deere can’t have you arrested for trying but they can make it damn near impossible, as Mr. Schreiver noted above.

    Here’s what I do. I buy Japanese or Korean or whomever has my best interests in mind.

    The embarrassment from “ridin’ rice” and facing the scorn of your SD neighbors, is a personal problem not one to be adjudicated in the courts.

  9. bearcreekbat 2021-05-26 18:20

    Porter, I think you hit on the solution – buy from John Deere’s competition. Either JD eventually will get the idea and change their practice or they will go out of business. I suppose one rather ugly solution available to Mr. Schreiver would have been to hot wire the vehicle. Another similar solution might have been to bypass the computer module that apparently cut off the juice needed for firing the ignition – a little wire can work wonders (see below).

    As for the “embarrassment from ridin’ rice and facing the scorn of your SD neighbors,” I rode a rice burner for years and since my ride typically funcioned properly, I was the one that often agreed to retrieve duck tape and baling wire when my companions’ Harleys quit on them (“he who laughs last . . . “). Lucky that HD didn’t have a John Deere style monoply on those two products or HD could have shut down multiple generations of Harley riders. Meanwhile my rice burner only broke down in places that i had decided to customize.

  10. Porter Lansing 2021-05-26 18:25

    In conclusion …

    I’m a big fan of government. It’s the most efficient, equitable, and economically stable (cheapest) way to get big things accomplished.

    However, the situation of “right to repair” … (Which is an inequity that needs to be solved. It’s a case of big companies like Deere throwing their weight around and snatching extra money from their consumers, when currently those customers have no recourse.) … right to repair isn’t the government’s problem.

    – This inequity is best solved through a labor union.
    – I’ve seen the opportunity farmers have since the days of the N.F.O
    – If there’s ever been a situation in need of a nationwide boycott, this is it.

  11. Mark Anderson 2021-05-26 19:29

    Did any of you have a Schwinn bike back in the day?

  12. T 2021-05-26 19:32

    Bear creek
    Buy a John Deere at REdfield or Aberseen
    Then break down, you will see whose mercy you are at
    Combines etc. they have the power

  13. T 2021-05-26 19:37

    Worse yet because of “part shortage” try and get your part anywhere, you will hear the parts guy at another John Deere say they don’t want to give up the part it’s “for their local customers”
    If you run green they literally have u by the short hairs. Parts are 4 x as much so they say because of metal, yet still made in Mexico.
    Mexico steel and their products are the same price in their area.
    Total scam screwing ag community yet watch their loving commercial with ag relationships using families as their ad design.

  14. Richard Schriever 2021-05-26 21:13

    BCB – nope – a hot wire will not work. The computer controls the engine (it’s all drive by wire – no direct mechanical linkage between accelerator and throttle controls, for ex:) and without the proper chip inserted in the ignition switch – the computer has strict instructions to huh uh.

    PS – this particular vehicle is a 2002 model year, so this is not something new.

  15. Richard Schriever 2021-05-26 21:18

    Looking at this situation in a different way – my key “problem” is a great example of how the use of a programmed driver validation card could be used to end bigger problems with people driving without a license, without insurance or while intoxicated. Without a currently validated, licensed, sober operator – a vehicle just shouldn’t go. The technology exists and has existed for a while.

  16. John 2021-05-26 22:40

    Many commentators here don’t get it, are under or ill-informed. The EU is taking the lead pushing back on corporate manufacture of obsolescent goods and repairs hidden behind in decipherable computer code.

    The US Senate runs at the whim of corporate donors (as do state legislators) – so do not expect to see progress on right to repair from the US.

  17. John Dale 2021-05-26 23:47

    If the consumer can’t fix most issues in the field, it is a poor product design and alternatives should be sought.

    Are producers of goods building their products to break intentionally, or pursuing designs that are less likely to be repairable in order to lock-in customers like Microsoft did?

    With so much fiat money floating around, seems like good business doesn’t seem to get rewarded these days ..

  18. Dana P 2021-05-27 07:45

    Interesting Cory, as well as all of the comments on this blog

    I’m wondering (forgive me for my ignorance on this if not accurate)….. Does John Deere stipulate to their owners that if repairs aren’t done by a JD certified repair person/JD certified parts, that any warranty on their equipment is voided?

    Just a thought that popped into my mind, and makes these farmers leery of doing repairs on their own

  19. Richard Schriever 2021-05-27 08:07

    John Dale – It’s unfettered capitalism buddy. Aren’t you “all in” on this sort of “free market”?

  20. Dicta 2021-05-27 09:01

    “With so much fiat money…”

    How did I know that John Dale was a gold standard believer. Could luck with that deflation and shock to the markets, bud.

  21. Dicta 2021-05-27 09:01


  22. Francis Schaffer 2021-05-28 08:05

    Interesting topic. Not sure I can add to the legal aspects of the topic, yet have had some experience with the technology side of data, data retrieval, data upload; mostly turned into learning opportunities. Ag equipment manufactures have the technology and ability to update controller software on tractors/combines/implements remotely as well as monitor vehicle onboard computers remotely. As a partner with clients through web applications; I can upload planting/seeding/fertilizer prescriptions to the clients vehicle and the clients accesses it through their on board display. It is an interesting time and that is why I avoid automatic updates on my office computer; updated does not mean improved nor bug free. I heard one story about a local producer purchasing a new corn planter and his current other brand tractor could not make the new planter function; therefore he had to trade to a new same branded tractor. I will not continue; but could.

Comments are closed.