RUTHERFORDTON, N.C. — At the beginning of the year John Deere signed a memorandum of understanding known as the right to repair.

The agreement allows farmers to diagnose error codes on their machines and perform repairs without calling a dealer or service tech out to their farm — something that wasn’t allowed previously — but it does come at a cost.

What You Need To Know

  • John Deere has signed a right to repair memorandum with the American Farm Bureau 

  • Farmers can pay for access to diagnostic software and programming

  • This is the first right to repair agreement with any manufacturer 

Although it’s his first spring planting season with a right to repair agreement from John Deere in his hands, Stuart Beam says it’s not making any difference on his farm.

Stuart Beam performs routine maintenance on one of his pieces of equipment. (Spectrum News 1/Rachel Boyd)

“John Deere didn't really come to the table with anything in that agreement that made a difference for most farmers,” Beam said. “That agreement was just some lip service from organizations and manufacturers that holds about as much water as this gravel right here does.”

The memorandum offers farmers access to software and diagnostic codes so they can perform their own maintenance and repairs. The only catch is the annual subscription fee that comes with it. Beam says the price unfortunately doesn’t offer any relief for small to mid-size farmers like himself. 

“If it was a one-time cost $1,500 to buy the software reader and stuff like that, nobody would bat an eye at it,” Beam said. “But you know, the fact that it's thousands and thousands of dollars annually, subscription based, it just alleviates it from being anything realistic for most farmers.”

In the past, farmers would have to contact an authorized dealer to service their equipment for most breakdowns. Getting it operational again was often a weeks to months-long process, and Beam said farmers don’t have time to lose. 

Stuart Beam seeds a field with a John Deere Conservation 1760 planter. (Spectrum News 1/Rachel Boyd)

“It's bad to be halfway through working with something, and then realize that you can't finish it because you have to have a dealer come out to finish the work,” Beam said. “There's been numerous times where if I had the information that was on that dealer’s computer about my machine, you know, I could have it repaired within the hour.”

John Deere is the first equipment manufacturer to venture into such an agreement without state or federal legislation. The current agreement for the right to repair is a private and voluntary one, away from state legislatures and federal laws. The company said it supports its customers safely maintaining their equipment as long as no modifications to safety or emissions components are made. 

Beam says he's still waiting to see how the agreement plays out in the long term. He fears it’s one big marketing strategy that will leave farmers little choice but to purchase John Deere equipment. 

“That's not the direction that we want to see ag go, you know. We want farmers to be able to stand on their own two feet, utilize the equipment they buy, take care of the equipment they buy and make it last for at least the next generation,” Beam said. 

Colorado just passed the first right to repair legislation in the country for farmers. Right to repair acts have stalled in North Carolina in the past.