Farmers won a victory Sunday when John Deere agreed to let the growers fix their own tractors.
A memorandum of understanding between the venerable agricultural implement maker and the American Farm Bureau Federation allows farmers access to John Deere software, specialty tools and repair training.
The company previously claimed a proprietary interest in these items, allowing only John Deere technicians to service newer equipment and in effect creating a monopoly.
The issue has been festering for several years, and the resolution Sunday represents a substantial victory for farmers, increasingly pressed from all sides.
There have been efforts toward right-to-repair legislation in the United States and Canada, and nine Illinois farmers filed a class action lawsuit against John Deere, the publication Farm Equipment reported Monday.
“Every time we take a truck or tractor in, it’s $175-200 an hour to get something serviced,” Jim Leverich, who has a thousand Wisconsin acres growing soybeans and corn, said prior to the MOU.
“Many of us could do that ourselves, or we could hire a technician on our own farms to do it, but we can’t get the software,” Leverich said.
Self-repair of farm equipment has a been long and necessary tradition.
“In agriculture, we run things until they’re dead and then we run ’em a little bit more after that,” Nebraska farmer Tom Schwartz said in a Freethink video posted on YouTube a year ago.
“There’s a tractor sitting in the shop here that’s built in 1943,” he continued. “We don’t dispose of things on the farm. We keep ’em running forever.
“And it’s important to us as farmers, in order to keep our costs down, when we buy something, we need to run it a long time to make it pay out.”
Climbing into a giant new cab-enclosed John Deere tractor, Schwartz is heard saying, “From this model on, you know, everything’s basically run by the computer in the tractor.”
“Companies feel that all the programming and the technology that’s in the tractor, they can continue to own after they sell me the tractor,” he said.
“So, you’re saying I have to pay for this, but you own it,” Schwartz continued. “I mean, there’s some really fuzzy things that happen there – at this point in time, if I want diagnostics, then I have one option and that’s to call my [John Deere] dealer.
“If a farmer out here through his own ingenuity is able to fix something, I think he ought to be able to do so.
“And bluntly, I think that’s the way it should be whether we’re talking about tractors or cellphones or computers.”
Schwartz and other farmers now have what they wanted: the ability to access certain John Deere proprietary materials, according to the MOU.
The document represents itself as “a voluntary private sector commitment to outcomes rather than legislative or regulatory measures.”
It not only allows farmers but also independent technicians access to John Deere materials. And they are free to replicate the tools and software, provided they do not resell them.
While the John Deere MOU is a victory for farmers, it’s against an ominous backdrop affecting American agriculture.
China is gobbling up farmland in the U.S., a big national security concern.
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is doing the same thing: With nearly 270,000 acres, he is the largest private owner of farmland in the country, The Associated Press reported last year.
Meanwhile, the hysteria over climate change is putting the onus on small farmers to direct attention away from their crops to making labor-intensive calculations of emissions data. Those data regarding fertilizer, chemicals and fuel are to go to corporations regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Also, the drought-riddled American Southwest is seeing scarce water supplies taken by farms owned by Middle Eastern countries.
In addition, growers themselves may be in danger. John Deere has visions of automated tractors doing row farming (the technology is already available).
Can you imagine giant corporations launching acres and acres of tractor-robots tended by just a few people? Something like that has already happened here in northwest Arkansas, where many family chicken farms have given way to caretaker-managed giant corporate spreads.
But, for today, let’s enjoy the victory farmers have won to repair their equipment and hold back a corporate monopoly.
And, for the moment, try to forget that phrase that keeps making the rounds: You will own nothing and be happy.
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