Two lawsuits have been filed in the past two weeks against agricultural equipment maker Deere & Company for allegedly violating antitrust laws by illegally monopolizing the tractor repair market.
The first one [PDF] was filed Jan. 12 in Illinois on behalf of Forest River Farms, a North Dakota-based agricultural company; the second, was filed in Alabama last week on behalf of farmer Trinity Dale Wells [PDF].
The lawsuits each claim what right-to-repair advocates have been saying for years: that Deere & Co., maker of John Deere-branded farm equipment, is denying customers the ability to repair and maintain their own farm machinery.
“Farmers have traditionally had the option of repairing and maintaining their own tractors as needed, or alternatively have had the option of having their tractors operated by an independent mechanic,” the Forest River Farms complaint states.
“However, in newer generations of its agricultural equipment, Deere has deliberately monopolized the market for repair and maintenance services for its agricultural equipment with ECUs. [engine control units] making critical repair software and tools inaccessible to farmers and independent repair shops.”
Deere has deliberately monopolized the market for repair and maintenance services for its agricultural equipment…by making critical repair software and tools inaccessible to farmers and independent repair shops.
The lawsuit alleges that Deere & Co. is preventing farmers from repairing their equipment by requiring its dealer network to honor agreements prohibiting farmers or repair shops from accessing the company’s proprietary repair software and tools.
The suit filed in Alabama makes similar allegations, borrowing some of the original language from the Illinois case. But it focuses on a different farmer’s situation. He argues that Deere & Co.’s alleged monopolization of the repair market allowed the manufacturer to charge high prices beyond what would be possible if there was genuine competition.
And he accuses a trade group representing Deere & Co. of failing to meet a 2018 commitment that Deere & Co. would make its software and tools available to customers by January 2021.
“The motive behind restricting access to [the proprietary software] is simple: Deere and its dealers did not want their revenue stream from maintenance and repair, a much more lucrative business than original equipment sales, to end when the equipment is purchased, as this was often the case in the past when owners could do their own repairs. or rely on individual repair shops,” the Alabama complaint states.
Both complaints claim that Deere’s repair business is three to six times more profitable than its equipment sales business. The Illinois complaint relates to the company’s efforts in recent years to consolidate and control the repair market for its products; the Alabama lawsuit makes similar allegations that stem from the personal experience of plaintiff Trinity (Trent) Dale Wells.
In December 2021, according to the Alabama complaint, a worker working on the John Deere 5105 field in Wells saw the stop engine light come on, then stopped doing anything for fear of damaging the vehicle. Wells, it is claimed, called the only service and repair option available to it, the John Deere authorized supplier TriGreen.
“A TriGreen representative will only send a service technician to their farm if [Wells] provided their debit card information prior to service,” the complaint explains. “Having no choice, he did it. However, Trent received no repair estimate or assurance that he would be able to approve charges to his card before they were made.
“When the tech arrived, he hooked up an ECU diagnostic machine, removed the cap from an emissions sensor, dried it off and put it back on. He spoke with Wells for about 10 minutes from the weather and crops, then left.
“About an hour later, Wells’ card was charged $615 for approximately 2 1/2 minutes of work,” the complaint continues. “Due to the practices of John Deere and its co-conspirator TriGreen, Wells has no alternative but to submit to this kind of scam.”
Wells card was charged $615 for about 2 1/2 minutes of work
Deere & Co. did not respond to a request for comment on the lawsuits.
Coincidentally, Deere & Co. recently received two Worst in Show awards, given by right-to-repair activists for commenting on the repairability of tech products making their CES debut.
Eric J. Artrip, partner at Huntsville, Alabama-based law firm Mastando & Artrip, said The register in a phone interview, “Ultimately, our goal is to see real, systemic change in the agriculture industry.”
Artrip explained that profit margins for farmers are extremely low and depend on factors beyond farmers’ control, such as weather conditions and fluctuations in commodity prices. Deere & Co.’s monopolistic behavior, he said, has become a serious concern for farmers. ®