Owner/operators battle for ‘right to repair’

WYOBRASKA – What started as a rough sketch on an airplane ticket, the John Deere 8000 series, was designed exclusively with 3D geometry in 1994. The airplane ticket sketch was a game changer and is now part of a digital exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. The John Deere 8000 series was released in August of 1994 for the 1995 model year. 

According to the timeline/blog post from MachineFinder, Terrill Woods, one of John Deere and Company’s design engineers, began working on the idea of developing a mechanical front wheel driven row-crop tractor with a super-tight turning radius. 

The turning radius has improved drastically since 1876 when John Deere and Co. first began manufacturing farm equipment, but it wasn’t until the 8000 series when engineers moved the motor and transmission forward and higher in the tractor. This allowed for the tractor to make extremely tight turns, as row crop producers need, by allowing for clearance so the front wheels could tuck under the tractor frame when turning. 

When the John Deere 8000 series was designed, engineers focused on operator comfort and handling. Since moving the motor and transmission, operators were given a much better view of the crops being worked than before. The cab moved forward too, creating a more balanced and stable ride for the operator. Things such as a CommandView Cab offered operators about 65% more cab space than before while the CommandARM moved all the major machine controls to the right armrest. 

Comfort, space and sharp turns all came with the John Deere 8000 series and so did computer components. As the years passed, John Deere and Co. continued to make bigger and better computer systems. 

In January 2021, John Deere & Co. started the commercial delivery of technology, enabling a tractor to till a field without an operator in the cab. Thanks to technology, producers today will have a little more time on their hands. 

Initially, automated tractors used stereo cameras in the front and rear to send images of what the camera sees via smartphone app to an equipment operator. Present day, a producer can take the tractor to the field, and with the swipe of the smartphone app, the machine will start on a programmed path. The computerized system is now able to monitor implements such as a tiller. Tillers have mirrors installed on the shank that churn plant stubble into the ground. If a shank hits a rock and becomes tipped, the change in reflection from the mirror is visible to the remote operator. There are many benefits to area growers if they are lucky enough to purchase a newer modeled tractor. 

GPS receivers have become common on tractors, sprayers, combines and other types of farm equipment. By using satellite technology producers can monitor their tractors, guide farm equipment, control their planters and sprayers, map their fields, and even monitor their animals. 

Tractors are becoming less mechanical and more electrical every day. Most owners and operators grew up learning how to fix mechanical problems which is why the right to repair is often known as a “farmer’s birthright.” With the increase of electrical and computerized components, some producers have seen up to a 40 percent increase in yield production. 

Unfortunately, there are also disadvantages to purchasing a computerized piece of equipment. Maintenance and repairs are the costliest expenses product owners and operators have today. Many operators make equipment repairs and perform routine maintenance in their own shops, with their own tools the same way the generations before them did; however, since the John Deere 8000 series rolled off the truck, equipment owners have been forced to wait for a certified technician or haul their machinery to the dealership. Manufactures have reduced the access for owners and operations to repair their equipment by claiming repair might violate their “Proprietary” rights. 

Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) have cost the American producer money and precious time by making it nearly impossible to perform routine maintenance and even make small, minor repairs to the equipment. These manufacturers can also control the software to lock out parts from other suppliers. Even if the operator owns the equipment, certain technical provisions have been put in place so that the owner/operator is unable to make changes to the equipment. 

Owners and operations of farm machinery, cell phones, medical devices and other technology have been fighting against the manufacturers for years in an attempt to service and repair what they rightfully own. 

Owners and operators are not the only ones that are prevented from doing equipment repairs and performing maintenance. 

Independent repair shops have also been fighting for the right to repair. Most independent shops are usually a cheaper option for equipment parts and repairs. They can also save the owner/operator time due to quicker response times and location in comparison to OEMs. Without the proper software and tools to diagnose newer modeled machines, independent shops are unable to perform repairs and maintenance as well. 

In January of 2023, The American Farm Bureau Federation and John Deere and Co signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) ensuring that farmers have the right to repair their own farm equipment or go to an independent technician. 

The MOU was developed to find a solution to the “right to repair” issue in private, rather than through some type of regulation. According to the document, it benefits farmers and independent repair facilities in the United States and Puerto Rico, for the “lawful operation and upkeep of Agricultural Equipment.” 

The document states equipment owners and independent shops are not allowed to compromise any safety measures and protocols on the equipment, which was an ongoing concern for John Deere and Co. The MOU states that Deere’s intellectual property and software is protected from infringement. It also states that no federal and state emissions control requirements can be compromised because of modifications made to the equipment. 

“With the memorandum of understanding signed between John Deere and Farm Bureau earlier this year, I have decided not to introduce a Right to Repair Bill for now,” Nebraska State Senator Tom Brandt said. “We’ll see how this MOU works out and if we feel it isn’t sufficient enough, we will consider introducing the bill next session.” 

According to Gay Gordon-Byrne, the Executive Director of The Repair Association, in the tri-state area, “Wyoming has tried several times to move Right to Repair for AG and Ranch equipment and just doesn’t seem to have a long-enough legislative session to give it enough attention. Hans Hunt filed a bill back in 2016 and moved it through the AG committee in the House, but not further.” 

Hans Hunt, a former Republican Party member of the Wyoming House of Representatives now works for Senator Lummis. 

“Senator Lummis has been very helpful to R2R legislation in Congress – for which I’m sure Hans has had some influence,” explains Gordon-Byrne. 

Most recently in the battle for the right to repair, Colorado has been a shining star in the right to repair battle. According to Gordon-Byrne, “They [Colorado] have passed through both the House AG and Appropriations Committee and also passed on the Floor. Next up is the Senate and Governor Polis has stated he wants to sign the law. Clearly if CO passes law, farmers in both Nebraska and Wyoming can do a little nearby shopping to solve their repair needs.”

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