20 February 2021

Rule 1 of Regulating Businesses: Businesses Will Lie to Avoid Regulation

Rule 2 is, "See Rule 1."

Case in point, when faced with the prospect of regulation enforcing a right to repair, John Deere lied when it said that future products would allow for more maintenance to be performed by the farmers themselves.

These products are out now, and they are not user-repairable, and intentionally designed not to be user repairable:

In September 2018, a trade group that represents John Deere and a series of other tractor and agricultural equipment manufacturers made a promise intended to stave off increasing pressure from their customers and to prevent lawmakers from passing what they said would be onerous repair regulations. They vowed that, starting January 1, 2021, Deere and other tractor manufacturers would make repair tools, software, and diagnostics available to the masses.

This "statement of principles," as it was called at the time, was nominally designed to address concerns from farmers that their tractors were becoming increasingly unrepairable due to pervasive software-based locks that artificially prevented them from fixing their equipment. As Motherboard repeatedly reported at the time, farmers were being forced to go to "authorized" John Deere dealerships and service centers to perform otherwise simple repairs that they could no longer do because they were locked out of their equipment and needed special software to unlock it. To get around this, some farmers had begun hacking their tractors with cracked software from Ukraine.

A host of states were considering "right to repair" legislation that would have compelled Deere and other manufacturers to abandon these artificial software locks, to make repair tools and guides available to the general public, and to, broadly speaking, allow farmers to fix the tractors they owned.

Deere, the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (the lobbying group that represents Deere and several other large manufacturers), and the Equipment Dealers Association announced this "commitment" to farmers in order to prevent any of this legislation from passing; the thinking was that if manufacturers like Deere provided some of the things that right to repair legislation would have required, they could explain to lawmakers that these bills (which provided more consumer control) weren't actually necessary.

This was a big deal in the farm world. In California, The Far West Equipment Dealers Association (which represents authorized dealers in seven western states) signed a "Memorandum of Understanding" with the California Farm Bureau that enshrined this statement of principles, printed out a giant poster of it, and then displayed it in a signing ceremony and photo-op. It was seen as a grand compromise, and farmers were the winners.


It is now three years later. The agreement is supposed to be in effect. No right to repair legislation has been passed. Deere, the dealers, and the manufacturers got what they wanted. And, yet, farmers are still struggling to get anything promised in the agreement.


Kerry Sheehan, iFixit's head of US policy, points out that currently, the "only John Deere repair tools we can find" are these children’s toys.

David Ward, a spokesperson for the AEM, the manufacturers' lobbying and trade group that often represents John Deere, told Motherboard that "Equipment manufacturers support farmers right to repair their equipment. Comprehensive repair and diagnostic information is now available for the vast majority of the tractor and combine market through authorized dealers. While we do not track it, specific information on pricing varies based on manufacturer.” A follow-up email from Motherboard that asked if he could point to a single instance where this is actually the case, or a single manufacturer that explains to farmers where they can get this information or these tools, was unreturned.


New sensors and software in tractors have led to this problem. For decades, many farmers did their own repairs. By-and-large, they can no longer do this: the proliferation of onboard computers and fancy equipment in newer models of tractors and combine harvesters has made it hard for farmers to repair the tools they need to keep the country fed.


The problem is that farmers often don’t have access to the diagnostic software and repair tools they need to make the fix. According to U.S. PIRG, the John Deere S760 combine harvester has 125 different computer sensors in it. If those sensors start throwing an error code, the combine won’t run and the farmer doesn’t have immediate access to the tools they need to fix the problem.

"It doesn’t matter how industrious they are, what their planting window looks like, or if their tractor goes down right as weather threatens to destroy their crop—modern farming equipment is designed so that farmers need to call the dealership to repair their machines," O'Reilly said.


The problem with new machines is so bad that farmers are taking drastic action to repair their own equipment. Some have become hackers, using software and tools they’ve found online to diagnose and repair their equipment. Others are buying 40-year old tractors because they still function and they’re more repairable than new models.

As an aside, these "40-year old tractors" are now selling for more money than their newer counterparts.

As the problem has become more pronounced, legislators are trying to pass right-to-repair laws that would help farmers repair their own equipment. LC 1562 in Montana is one example, a simple piece of legislation that would make it easier for farmers to access the information they need to make repairs.

“What the bill does, overall, is give the owner the ability to purchase the diagnostic tools to make repairs themselves, saving time and money,” Katie Sullivan, a Missoula area state representative said during the town hall. “It supports farmers who don’t have the time to wait for mechanics or have the extra money to spend just to fix a small issue.”


Deere has claimed that it can’t allow farmers access to the computer system at this level because it’s a security risk and might lead to farmers breaking federal law. “Sometimes, these modifications can be altered and now the machine is not functioning as it was intended,” Vancil said at a webinar about right to repair with the Florida Farm Bureau last week. “It also starts getting into some areas, if you're talking about emissions, that get into the area where you start having federal topics being introduced from an emissions standpoint.”

This is the same reasoning used by car manufacturers in their attempts to hamstring independent car repair shops.

It is, and remains, complete bullsh%$.


It would not be difficult for John Deere and other manufacturers to comply with a right to repair law, or, at the very least, to abide by its own promise. Europe has had some right to repair regulations which require "standardized access to repair and maintenance information (RMI) systems to provide repair and maintenance information for vehicles used in agriculture and forestry" since 2013, and manufacturers comply with those.

And so the solution in the United States seems like it's going to have to be the same. Not a promise from manufacturers and dealers, but legislation with the force of law.

As is always the case, with profit driven businesses.

They will not voluntarily cede a revenue stream, even if it is unfair and abusive, until such time as they are forced to through statute or regulation.


Post a Comment