Updated on Jan. 24, 2022. 

A little over a week ago, I received an email from a lawyer who had reached out to me in the past looking for some information about the farm equipment industry. He was passing along the antitrust suit that was filed against Deere in the U.S. District Court in Chicago. He said he had thought of us when he saw it and thought Farm Equipment might be interested.

The antitrust class-action suit was filed on Jan. 12, 2022, by Forest River Farms, Forest River, N.D., owned by Robert Blair.

Since 2016, Farm Equipment has published at least 6 blogs about right to repair in support of dealers and manufacturers. So, imagine my surprise while skimming it to find my name, Farm Equipment and Ag Equipment Intelligence all listed in the footnotes to support the lawyers for Forest River Farms’ argument. Not only that, throughout the 52-page document, our Big Dealer Report is repeatedly referenced, but not once was it professionally or correctly attributed. For what it’s worth, I learned how to correctly cite research in 5th grade. (Thanks Mrs. Allison!).

If you haven’t had the chance to see the full document, you can read it here.

The general consensus in our office was the document seemed amateurish and sensationally written compared to other suits we’ve read over the years. It’s filled with hyperbole and attempts to manufacture known trends facing every industry, such as consolidation, as a case for the monopoly argument.

In Agweek’s coverage of the news, they reported:

The plaintiffs allege the company’s “highly-consolidated independent dealerships” are not permitted “through their agreements with Deere” to provide farmers and repair shops with access to the same software and repair tools. John Deere has “cornered” the “multi-billion dollar” repair market for their machines and has “derived supracompetitive profits from the sale of repair and maintenance services.”

One farmer commented on an AgTalk message board, “A good portion of the codes are listed right in the operator’s manual. If it is a more serious one that isn’t, a 5 minute phone call to my dealer will have the info needed. Deere also sells customer service advisor if you do commercial repairs. This whole thing is much ado about nothing and always has been.”

The Equipment Dealers Assn. was also dragged into the suit, and on Jan. 20 released the following statement to clear the air.

The EDA has been made aware of recent litigation filed against John Deere in two federal court cases. The allegations in these lawsuits essentially claim John Deere has illegally prevented end-users from repairing their equipment.

The lawsuits further allege the EDA advocates for John Deere. Based upon our review of the lawsuits, the plaintiffs have made the incorrect assessment of the EDA and our members. The plaintiffs appear to conflate independent equipment dealers and their association with original equipment manufacturers, like John Deere. We bring this to your attention to remind you of how important it is for equipment dealers to tell their story — lest someone else tell it for you. Our organization is committed to helping dealers succeed. Our equipment dealers have an important story to tell, and this collective story is separate and apart from any one equipment manufacturer. Let's use this litigation as a reminder to keep telling our unique story. 

To the dealers out there, what are your thoughts on the lawsuit, and the claim that the suit could somehow involve your own independent business? Share your comments below (you can do so anonymously if you prefer) or send me an email or give me a call. We’re curious to get your input on whether this thing has legs or not, what you’re hearing from your own customers, and what concerns you have about the future of right to repair in North America. 

 In case it wasn’t clear, Farm Equipment’s official stance on right to repair is — and has always been — in line with the dealers and manufacturers. While we support customers' right to repair their equipment, we do not support modifying equipment. 

Jan. 24, 2022 Update

We learned on Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022 that a similar suit had been filed against Deere in Alabama. In this case, the plaintiff, Trinity Dale Wells, argues Deere has a monopoly "of the repair service market for John Deere ("Deere") brand agricultural equipment with onboard central computers known as engine control units, or "ECUs."" 

Much like the Blair case, this one is also filled with strong language and hyperbole, and again fails to properly attribute Ag Equipment Intelligence's Big Dealer Report. According to a report in AL.com, "his only repair option was to call John Deere to adjust proprietary software on the machine, a repair he says took a John Deere technician less than three minutes but cost over $600."

Wells should have requested an estimate before authorizing the work, or a the very least before the tech left his property. The incident just happened last month, so it seems as though rather than going to the dealership to dispute the $615 charge or to work through it with dealership management, he chose to file a lawsuit. 

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