John Deere Blows Off Shareholders Asking About Right to Repair

Facing mounting legislation and pushback from customers and shareholders, an embattled John Deere looks to the SEC to keep it from answering questions.
December 9, 2021, 2:13pm
John Deere Tractor
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State of Repair is Motherboard's exploration of DIY culture, device repair, ownership, and the forces fighting to lock down access to the things you own.

A shareholder sent John Deere a notice in September asking why farmers have such a hard time fixing the company’s tractors. Rather than answer its shareholders' questions about the company’s anti-competitive right-to-repair policies, John Deere has petitioned the U.S. Securities and Exchanges commission for an exemption. 

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That’s according to a statement from Green Century Capital Management, the investment advisor of Green Century Funds, a mutual fund devoted to fossil fuel free investments.

“Deere seems to be more focused on stifling shareholder concerns than addressing them,” Green Century President Leslie Samuelrich said in a statement. “Spending time and energy on an SEC challenge could be put to better use by making their products better serve their customers.”

John Deere has said, repeatedly, that it supports the right-to-repair and that its customers are free to fix John Deere products. Green Century said that’s not true. “We filed our resolution because we have questions about Deere’s approach to repair that haven’t been clearly addressed,” Green Century Shareholder Advocate Andrea Ranger said in a statement. “There is now a tsunami of right-to-repair legislation, potential action by the Federal Trade Commission on restrictive repair practices, a presidential order that specifically calls out concerns about tractor repair, and mounting bad press facing Deere. As investors, that’s a great deal of risk for us to take on.”

According to John Deere, its customers are able to fix 98 percent of the issues facing broken down tractors. It said that only 2 p[ercent of issues require a John Deere certified repair tech. “If that’s true, then why are multiple states and the federal government still looking for more repair access? It doesn’t add up,” Ranger said.

John Deere has long promised it would make its tractors easier to repair. In 2018, a trade group representing Deere and other agricultural companies promised to support the right-to-repair as a way to avoid costly federal regulations. In February, Motherboard called several John Deere stores looking for basic repair manuals and tools. Every store said repairs could only be conducted by an authorized repair tech.

Deere’s tractors are so notoriously difficult to repair that farmers have learned basic hacking techniques to keep them running. The used tractor market has also exploded, with tractors built free of on-board computers commanding incredible prices at auction. As a result, the much feared government regulation has finally come. States across the country are looking to pass their own right to repair bills and President Biden has signed an executive order aimed at creating right-to-repair legislation.

With farmers unable to repair their own equipment and Washington regulations finally addressing the issue, John Deere’s shareholders want it to answer for what’s happened. John Deere would, seemingly, prefer not to. “No one is asking Deere to give up its trade secrets or quit its repair business,” Samuelrich said. “We’re merely calling on the company to proactively adjust its business strategies and adapt to the reality that the right-to-repair movement is very likely here to stay.”