Alabama farmers at odds with manufacturers over right to repair technology-driven equipment


(AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WIAT) — Alabama is home to a robust farming industry, but lately, many of those farmers feel their hands are tied when it comes to repairing their newer, more technology-driven equipment. 

These farmers have discovered what they own doesn’t necessarily belong to them. 

“If we had the diagnostic equipment, we might need help fixing it, but we could figure out what it was and get the parts coming,” farmer Shep Morris said.

Morris runs Morris & Morris Farms. He and his family cultivate nearly 4,000 acres of corn, cotton and sesame. And they need big machines to get the work done, such as his $850,000 cotton picker.

“This picker basically replaced two harvesters, two boll buggies, and two module builders,” he said.

But with so much computer technology running equipment, farmers like Morris have run into a problem. Morris said John Deere maintains proprietary control over much of the onboard computer systems and will only allow a John Deere-certified dealership mechanic to run a diagnostic test and do repairs. 

“The cost is one thing, but the timeliness is the huge thing,” he said. “We have a very good mechanic here and he does an excellent job, but his boat is loaded.”

The issue has prompted lawmakers around the country to push for so-called “right to repair” laws, but without much success. Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries Rick Pate agrees it’s an issue that needs to be resolved. 

“There’s plenty of laws that show this is a violation of ant-trust laws. I think if people spend that kind of money on a piece of equipment, they own that equipment. It’s a pretty simple jump to say they outa be able to fix it,” Pate said.

We reached out to John Deere for comment on this story. Their public relations department referred us to a statement on their website and LinkedIn page.

The statement on their website read:

“Our customers need reliable equipment and minimal down time. We’re here to help.

“For decades, John Deere has supported customers’ ability to maintain, diagnose, and repair their equipment. John Deere leads the industry in providing detailed product information, software solutions and parts needed for owners to keep their machines running.

“When customers buy from John Deere, they own the equipment and can choose to personally maintain or repair the product. When our customers need help, hundreds of Deere dealers and thousands of Deere-certified technicians nationwide stand ready to assist, either in person, on site, or remotely.

“We take the health and safety of our customers and the environment seriously. That’s why we engineer our equipment to the highest technical and environmental standards, using advanced software that makes every user more productive. We do not condone altering our machines from their engineering standards, which can pose a risk to not just the current owner and their employees, but other equipment operators, future owners, John Deere dealers, and the environment.

“Our success comes only when our customers leap forward. For additional questions on our ownership and repair resources, contact your local John Deer.”

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