John Deere & Other Manufacturers Break Promise - Farmers Suffer

It was a simple fix. It was a fuel sensor, it only cost about $800 to actually do the fix. But when it was all said and done, when you paid for freight, when you paid for the hours that it was there, my bill was about $5,000….if I could have just bought that software, I could have known right away my problem and either fixed it or had the dealer come out with the part to fix it. When I shared my story, I heard from farmers all over the state that they’re having the same problem.

Walter Sweitzer, Montana via VICE

Walter Sweitzer is the president of the Montana Farmers Union and he shared this story at a town hall meeting less than 2 weeks ago. His story is not unique, and it’s not new. This has been a problem for farmers throughout the country for a long time now. So what exactly is the problem?

Technology. Like everything else in manufacturing, agricultural equipment is becoming more and more reliant on software and sensors to operate. What used to be considered normal maintenance that could be done easily by a customer, or a nearby service dealer is no longer physically possible. It’s not that the customers don’t have enough technical knowledge to fix an issue, it’s that they are essentially locked out by the software. They can’t access the problem in order to fix it.

Let’s say your out there on your farm, riding your big ole John Deere S760 Combine with it’s roomy, convenient cab and fully automated yield sensor calibration with ActiveYield™ which supplies accurate data with no time spent calibrating.

Oh yeah. You’re harvesting the fuck out of your crops. Killing it.

Then all of the sudden something is off. You shut down and hop off to take a look. You throw in a pinch of Grizzly wintergreen long cut (you’ll quit soon) as you head around the back of your beloved Dorothy (that’s what you’ve named her).

It’s no big deal, just a leaky spark tube.

The problem is that Dorothy is now in “limp mode.” Any time one of Dorothy’s 125 sensors finds an error, she automatically goes into this mode where she’s still operating, but slowly. Like my brain after taking an edible that was wayyyy too strong. And this happens with errors of all sizes. Serious or not, Dorothy will absolutely refuse to operate at full speed until the error is properly diagnosed, repaired and cleared.

And you’ve been here before, you know how unnecessarily difficult it is to fix this simple problem. Want proof? Kevin O’Reilly, an advocate for the US PIRG Right to Repair group, called 12 John Deere dealerships in 6 states pretending to be a customer:

Of those, 11 told me that they don't sell diagnostic software and the last one gave me an email of someone to ask for the tools. I sent an email two days ago and haven't heard anything back.

Kevin O’Reilly, via VICE

Good news is Dorothy is going to be ok. Bad news is that you cannot repair Dorothy and it’s going to take forever to do it. And all of that time lost is money lost. Not to mention the cost of the actual repairs and the unnecessary cost associated with a monopolistic service and repairs process riddled with hoops that you have no choice but to reluctantly jump through.

It was so bad that the Far West Equipment Dealers Association (FWEDA) issued this ceremonious promise to farmers that was known as the “Statement of Principles” which vowed to ensure that all resources for repair would be made readily available to all end users of the equipment at reasonable prices.

The problem with that? Other than the fact that the manufacturers should never have let the problem escalate to such a level that warranted a promise for such a basic service in the first place? No. It’s that the promise was made back in 2018! And farmers now have not seen anything changes.

Three years ago, John Deere offered a half measure that was going to take three years to implement. It seemed like a stall tactic at the time. But there was some wait-and-see going on in the farm world. We’ve waited and now we see—it’s not just a half measure, it's Kabuki Theatre. You can't get it.

Nathan Proctor, campaign director of Right to Repair at U.S. PIRG via VICE

Why can’t manufacturers like John Deere just make the fucking resources available? They dance around that question with vague references to security risks, emissions, intellectual property, breaking federal law, farmers stealing source code, ba ba ba BULLSHIT.

At least those were excuses. Austin Vancil, customer support manager at John Deere, just flat out lied through his teeth. That or his specific customers are the luckiest farmers in the country and he’s truly oblivious to the rest of it:

Many of these manufactures, ourselves included, we provide diagnostic tools, repair manuals, parts. Diagnostic and repair information for you, the producer has always been around, you've always had parts, you've always been able to get manuals, paper and such. You have the right to repair your own equipment.

Austin Vancil, John Deere via VICE

Frustrated customers and law makers are pushing for what they call “right-to-repair” legislation which would make it easier for farmers to access information they need for repairs. It would call for them to get rid of the complex software locks that are currently in place and allow customers to make repairs themselves.

Seems reasonable. Figure it out John Deere and various agricultural machinery and equipment manufacturers.

The entire article over at VICE is definitely worth the read. It’s not the first time they’ve reported about this issue.